Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) is the only permanent rescue
and rehabilitation facility in Alaska that can house both
marine mammals and birds. Operating as a designated marine
mammal "stranding center" within a marine research
facility allows scientists to learn a great deal about
these animals during the rehabilitation process.
When a sick or injured animal
arrives at ASLC, it is placed in quarantine to isolate
it from other animals at the Center. This minimizes the
risk of exposing the Center's resident animals to disease.
The animal is then assessed to identify any diseases and
potential treatments. The Center has a fully equipped
animal hospital and veterinary staff with a complement
of tools to use for this job, including an x-ray machine
with darkroom, surgery room, hematology (blood analysis)
lab, and a clinical chemistry lab.
gathered from animals in rehab provides valuable information
to scientists who study them. Researchers have an opportunity
to establish baseline data for sick, injured, and juvenile
animals, and learn more about parasites and diseases that
may affect marine mammals. They also broaden their knowledge
of blood and tissue chemistry. All of this information
provides important references for analyzing samples collected
from the wild.
After an animal has been assessed,
treatment begins. Most marine mammals go through de-worming,
and if they are dehydrated they are given additional fluids.
If a bacterial infection is discovered, the animal may
be given antibiotics. If x-rays reveal a broken bone,
it may be set and splinted. Surgery may be required in
the event of a serious injury. Sometimes an animal enters
rehab that is considered in "critical" condition,
and staff must monitor the animal under a 24-hour watch
until it is stable. During the rehabilitation process,
it is necessary to maintain very accurate records. Size,
weight, temperature, overall appearance, diet, medications
and even bowel movements are all recorded on a daily basis.
Once an animal is deemed healthy
enough for release, it is given a final physical exam.
Staff implant a microchip under the skin and attach a
flipper tag, both of which can help scientists identify
the animal if it is ever recaptured or found dead. The
final step is to attach either a radio or satellite telemetry
tag, so scientists may monitor the location of the animal.
Radio and satellite tags attached to rehabilitated animals
help scientist learn more about the behavior of animals
in the wild, and also provide the scientists with a platform
on which to test new tracking technology and evaluate
and improve the success of rehabilitation efforts.