Okay, not really. But I think I have an idea for the next big toy craze.
Anyway, if you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ve read a little bit about our Western grebe project. It’s been great fun and a GREAT learning experience in many ways. Not only did we get trained in some capture techniques (thanks Washington Fish & Game guys!!), but we learned a modified protocol for surgical implantation of satellite transmitters for grebes. Presumably due to their unique shape and anatomy, grebes have not tolerated implanted transmitters in previous attempts. Dr. Dan Mulcahy, a wildlife veterinarian with USGS in Alaska, has more experience implanting birds than anyone else in the world. He and Joe (who you met in the last post) and Dr. Greg Massey evaluated past attempts, and developed some modifications to the standard bird implantation protocol. They performed a pilot study a couple of years ago, and the modifications seemed to work. The goal of last week’s project was to test the protocol “for real,” implanting birds and then releasing them. Dr. Mulcahy flew in, and Dr. Scott Larsen, who has implanted hundreds of other birds but not grebes, helped us out.
In two intense days of surgery, Dan trained Joe, Scott, and me on the technique, with Scott acting as both teacher and student. I was the biggest neophyte of the group, because although I’ve implanted transmitters in snakes, tortoises, lizards, and armadillos, I had never implanted a bird. Fortunately, Dan is an accomplished (and patient!) teacher, and all three of us successfully implanted at least two birds each. The grebes also cooperated; they ate their fish, kept up their preening, and rapidly regained waterproofing after surgery.
Emily also learned a lot — she had plenty of previous experience with anesthesia in mammals, but not much with birds. Avian anesthesia is a whole new kettle of fish in many ways, with many details to remember and everything happening at a breakneck pace. Somehow she managed to keep all the birds alive during their anesthesia AND keep her sanity, despite the fact that she had four veterinarians telling her what to do!
Becky not only helped in the field, but she assisted with post-capture care, which is analogous to stabilization in an oil spill (Here she is giving some fluids to a grebe before transport to Davis). She also took most of the photos, and she and Kyra helped with the animal care before and after surgery. They also helped keep the surgeons and anesthetists well fed by getting us lunch (and reminding us to eat)!
At the end of the week, we had nine Western grebes swimming in our pools with antennas sticking up out of their backs. We kept them for a couple of days to provide pain medication and an easy meal, and then Kyra and I released them in the Bay on Sunday morning. I’m hoping that the other grebes aren’t making fun of their antennas . . . . personally I think they look cute, but I suspect the other grebes assume they were victims of an alien abduction!
So far, all of our implanted grebes are alive and well. It’s a little too early to declare the new surgical protocol a success, but we’re all optimistic. If it works, it will be the first time Western grebes have been successfully implanted and tracked. Kyra will be checking the locations of the grebes daily, so keep an eye out for her posts to monitor how they are doing.
This is my last post of the year, so I’d like to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, and here’s hoping for an oil spill-free New Year!!!