How do you bandage a manatee or sedate a 50-ton whale? Throughout his career, University of Florida professor Mike Walsh and his colleagues have invented countless ways to heal stranded, sick, orphaned or injured aquatic creatures. Here are some of the ingenious innovations and improvements he has helped develop, both at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine and in his previous position at Sea World.
A stranded sea turtle that needs medical attention can be pretty stressed out, and you don’t want it frantically flapping its flippers and hurting itself or its helpers. This design keeps the turtle safe during transport.
Entanglement in commercial fishing equipment and other ocean debris takes a toll on right whales. When rescuers approach to cut them free, however, they often panic and dive into the deep. Walsh pioneered a cocktail of medication that can relax a whale just enough to remove the entanglements without harming it.
When an injury caused a manatee to float sideways, making it hard to breathe or eat, Walsh teamed up with an animal care specialist and a wetsuit company to design a neoprene jacket with a foam insert on one side that kept it upright, allowing it to move freely.
When dolphins get intestinal problems (read: diarrhea) they don’t feel well enough to eat or take the medication they need to get better. The docs decided to try feeding them Pepto-Bismol or Mylanta just like people. It worked!
Entanglements often cause scars that give debris a place to snag, making another entanglement more likely. To help prevent that, Walsh uses a combination of waterproof tape, Super Glue and porous tape on manatee wounds to help them heal smoothly.
Orphaned manatees can struggle to find food when they’re re-released into the wild, especially when the weather turns cold. Walsh and other manatee vets advise rehabilitators to fatten up young manatees so they have a “backpack” of extra weight and energy to live on while they acclimate to life on their own.
Find out more about UF’s work in aquatic animal health at https://aquatic.vetmed.ufl.edu/.