Marine Mammal Center eye gel helps oil-sullied pinnipedsJanuary 17, 2017
Marine Mammal Center eye gel helps oil-sullied pinnipeds
Marine Mammal Center pinnipeds are receiving an antibiotic gel used in human medicine to help oiled wildlife recover. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)
Pinnipeds whose eyes are affected by oil contamination and other hazards are benefitting from an antibiotic gel commonly used in human medicine and domestic animals, according to a study by veterinary experts at the Marine Mammal Center.
Targeted antibiotic therapy is already helping sea mammals at the Marine Mammal Center campus in the Marin Headlands, where the quick procedure is reducing the need for daily handling.
“After studying the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on marine mammals in the Gulf, I was interested in developing a new therapy to help oiled wildlife,” said Dr. Claire Simeone, lead author on the study and veterinarian at the center. “It can be used during an oil spill, but is an important part of our medical toolbox as well.”
Petroleum contains substances irritating to the eye, and ulcers are frequent. During a large oil spill, the gel will likely provide a faster way to help heal eye issues.
“Painful eye lesions are of significant concern in wildlife during oil spills,” said Dr. Michael Ziccardi, director of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which was one of the backers of the study. “With products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, we have seen serious damage to seabirds in spills in California, and eye lesions are well documented in pinnipeds. (The gel) can better treat oiled marine mammals, reduce their pain and suffering, and increase our chances of releasing healthy animals after the incident.”
Traditional treatment of ulcers includes frequent eye drops or long courses of oral antibiotics, both time consuming. The new procedure involves an injection of the gel into the eye.
The gel holds the antibiotic in the eye, releasing it slowly over more than a week. Used also for human and domestic pet eye issues, the gel is initially a liquid. When refrigerated it turns into a gel at body temperature. Research found that a single injection is often enough to treat an ulcer on the cornea in marine mammals.
“We have seen these ulcers heal right up with the treatment,” said Simeone, who shared her data with zoos, rehabilitation centers and aquariums.
“Carmella,” a juvenile California sea lion that was rescued by the Marine Mammal Center in June 2015, benefitted from the gel. The animal had an ulcer that progressed to a perforated cornea. The painful condition likely made it difficult to find food in the ocean.
With the gel treatment, the injury healed completely and he was released back to the wild.
Beyond oil spills, veterinarians will be able to use the therapy in marine mammal rehabilitation.
“The patients we have with eye issues is significant, about 15 percent,” Simeone said. “We can do the procedure in the pens and it takes about two minutes.”
The findings are described in the current online issue of the journal Veterinary Ophthalmology.