Monday, August 4, 2014

The Quarantine Scene

Last week, we told the story of a mysterious sea star that may have literally fallen out of the sky and into our lives. With continuing bad news about Sea Star Wasting Disorder, Animal Care staff had recently implemented a quarantine protocol for new animals going into our tide pool touch tank. Our recent visitor was a good test for our new procedure.

The original home of our animals, Puget Sound, is cold – from 8 degrees (44˚F) in winter, to 14 degrees (57˚F) in late summer. Naturally, our touch tank animals need cold water to stay healthy. The price of chillers, a machine that cools and recirculates tank water, is expensive. But we realized we could use a small refrigerator and modify it with a thermostat to bring the temperature within the required range for the health of our tide pool animals.

Once we fitted our fridge with containers for the types of animals we would be housing, we created a manifold of air bubblers to keep the animals’ water well oxygenated. Each day we do a 50% water change, using synthetic sea salt mix. By changing out the water, we dilute and over time flush out any pollutants the animals have in their bodies. The frequent, large water changes also mean the tanks never accumulate toxins such as ammonia, and if we remove the water with care, we clean up most of the waste and uneaten food at the same time.

Our quarantine process has worked very well as a temporary life support system, but as a method for preventing Sea Star Wasting Disorder it has one obvious flaw: If any animal other than a sea star is a carrier, it will not show any symptoms. Therefore, there is no obvious way to determine if an animal is safe to be around our stars.

Somewhat arbitrarily, we hold wild-collected animals for 30 days regardless of species, and those transferred from other facilities for a variable amount of time. Anemones are mostly water. Ten days of 50% water change should lead to them trading out most of their native water for new, ‘clean’ synthetic water mix. Other echinoderms, such as urchins, are not thought to be carriers but are quarantined longer than anemones simply because of their closer relationship to the sea stars.

And what about new sea stars? Our intention had been not to introduce any. But when one was brought to us, we determined that 30 days should be enough time to see if symptoms developed. Sadly, we didn’t need even ten days. We do not know if our little star succumbed to wasting disorder, or to the trauma of being removed from the water and attacked by gulls. Our quarantine care could not help it. The star showed lack of motor control, loss of body substance, and eventually its limbs began to deteriorate. At that point, Animal Care gave it a swift and humane end of life.

We are sorry to lose the star, but grateful to volunteer David Ashlin and Animal Caretaker Katie Malmberg for recognizing that this animal was not a resident of our touch tank. And a big “Thank you” to Christopher Russell for developing our quarantine process that lets us prevents problems before they entered our tide pool system.

1 comment: