Skates and sharks and toadfish, oh my! Go behind-the-scenes in our Marine Resources Center with Veterinarian Lisa Abbo, who talks about what it takes to keep the MBL’s animals healthy in our latest #MBLSciShoots digital learning lesson.
Questions from the Audience
What is the most challenging animal you’ve ever had to treat?
The most challenging terrestrial animals I’ve ever had to treat were lions because they had to be anesthetized for almost everything including a simple physical exam. Trainers are very good at teaching them to have blood drawn and other simple procedures awake but these lions were not trained. I’ve never had an animal wake up in the middle of an anesthetic procedure but that didn’t keep me from being anxious every time I had a lion under anesthesia. I mostly worried about the vet techs and keepers with me in the enclosure with the sleeping lion because I was responsible for keeping them safe. The most challenging aquatic animals I have had to treat so far have been cephalopods mainly because there aren’t a lot of specific treatment protocols that are established that are species-specific. I have to extrapolate a lot from what has been published in other species and this can be frustrating for a veterinarian because we care about animals and always want to provide them with the best possible treatment.
Did you always want to be a veterinarian working with marine animals or did you work with other animals first?
I’ve always loved marine biology and was hopeful that someday I would be able to work with aquatic animals but I have worked with many other animals before working here. I love all kinds of animals and the more unusual the better.
Part of this video showed a buoyancy problem in a bass. How common is this in the wild and what happens to a fish in nature with a swim bladder problem?
The bass in the video was caught with our boat, Gemma. Sometimes when fish are brought up from deep water too quickly they are not able to compensate so the gas inside their swim bladders expands and the fish isn’t able to expel the gas so they float. Sometimes if you leave them alone the gas will dissipate and they will be able to swim normally again but if it takes too long or if the swim bladder is hugely overinflated the fish becomes very stressed and this can lead to other problems like injuries to the skin or internal organ damage so that is when I degas them with a syringe and needle under anesthesia. This is probably a very rare occurrence in the wild but a fish that can’t swim properly for whatever reason likely becomes food for a larger fish.
Do you have a species that’s your favorite to work with and why?
Humans! Sort of joking but truthfully my favorite part of my job is working with amazing, passionate scientists who are discovering new things every day about how our planet, animals, and humans work. If I had to choose a non-human animal I would say working with cuttlefish is very rewarding because they are so challenging and such unusual creatures. They fascinate me and I want to learn as much as I can about them and try to make their lives in captivity as healthy and stress-free as possible.
What is the ideal male:female ratio for embryo production?
I don’t have a good scientific answer for this, but our skates seem to do best with a ratio of about 1 male to 3-5 females. I would have to do some investigation to see what other people do but with higher male densities there is more aggression and we try to keep our animals as healthy and stress-free as possible.
Do the sharks protect their eggs over the 8-9 month gestation period?
Elasmobranchs do not protect their eggs or young after they hatch or are born. The pups, as they are called, hatch or are born with the ability to swim and eat right away so they are completely on their own from the start. The eggs are usually laid in protected areas so the pups have a good chance of survival.
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