Last week I enjoyed the lovely weather (if you consider 300 °F and 90% humidity lovely) of Atlanta (natives call it Hotlanta) while finishing an otter anesthesia and cardiology study at ZooAtlanta and the Georgia Aquarium. The best part of most research projects is the quality time you get to spend with friends and colleagues, and that was certainly true of last week. The veterinarians, technicians, keepers, curators, and aquarists at both institutions are all fabulous — fun to work with but also highly skilled.
Otters are a little tricky to anesthetize because they have thermoregulatory issues, and of course it is critical that they are fully awake before they are returned to the water. Our study compared two different anesthetic protocols to see which one would be better. We haven’t analyzed the data yet, but preliminary results suggest that both protocols are safe and effective, but the “newer” protocol (one including a relatively new drug) has some advantages in terms of recovery time.
The veterinary cardiologist on our team, Gregg, performed echocardiograms on all the otters, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he has probably done more otter echos than anyone else in the world! Fortunately all the otters appeared to have pretty healthy hearts, even the old man, Moe, who’s almost 18 years old (quite geriatric for an otter!).
I’m a little sad that the study is over, since it means no more trips to Atlanta to hang out with the team, but I’m glad we learned a lot and I’m excited to present the results at the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians this fall. Otters may not be the easiest animals to anesthetize, but with this new protocol we’ve added another tool to our toolbox.