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Submitted by ingrid.biedron on Fri, 02/14/2020 - 16:59
Audio file
Podcast Transcript
Welcome to the NOAA Fisheries Podcast.

Angela Amlin: Aloha and thanks for listening. My name is Angela Amlin.
Dr. Michelle Barbieri: And I'm Michelle Barbieri.
AA: And we're with NOAA Fisheries here in Honolulu. We know that many of you are aware that we have a pretty special monk seal patient in our care currently: an adult female seal named "Pohaku," who has been diagnosed with a case of toxoplasmosis. We know a lot of people are concerned about her status and so we thought we would try something new - see if we could do a podcast and share with you folks a lot of what we're going through and what her current status is at the moment. So, Michelle, as the program veterinarian and the person who's been managing Pohaku's care, can you talk a little bit about what it's been like for you and the team working on this case?
MB: Yeah. This has been quite the roller coaster. I'm encouraged to initially say that we think we're coming out of the initial crisis. It's a pretty massive undertaking. We've never been able to successfully do this with a monk seal with toxoplasmosis before. It's something where, usually, seals with this disease are found dead. So the fact that we are approaching a full third week with her in our care is pretty - is pretty surprising. I want it to be encouraging but we know we have a really long way yet to go. It's required teams of people to provide essential treatments to her every single day and lots of uncertainty and lots of troubleshooting and taking things really, like, one day, sometimes just one hour at a time.
AA: So what do those treatments involve? For example, how many people, what kind of procedures?
MB: Sometimes, it's - you know - all hands on deck and that might be 10 or 15 people. The first swim that we gave her really was that kind of thing with supervision, and we needed to net her out after a short period of time. The main underpinning of the treatments is that she needs to be restrained. We've had to use more and more sedative every time we restrain her just to reduce the anxiety around all of that, and help her be more cooperative. What's special about these things is that they are wild animals and we want them to stay wild, but from her point of view, we're essentially just aliens coming in every day and she gets a few pokes here and there. There's a lot of medications that we're throwing at her - drugs to treat toxoplasmosis, also a lot of supportive medications to deal with the effects of the disease and that parasite just coursing through her tissues and doing its damage. And so that also requires giving her some medicine that's only available in an oral form - it has to be given by mouth. So because she's so compromised, we have to put a tube from her mouth down to her stomach. And we're giving her, basically, fish smoothies with a whole bunch of medicine loaded into that. And then we're giving her a lot of fluids and other supplements.
AA: I'm thinking people are probably wondering, you know, this is becoming a bigger and bigger impact on our seals. We're seeing larger numbers dying from toxoplasmosis. Is this kind of treatment something that could be done for other seals or something that could help in the long term?
MB: You know, it's a really good question - it's one that we're still asking ourselves in terms of what can we do to be more prepared for these cases. It's been on our radar for a while and we've said for years that we don't think treatment is the answer to this problem, and it still isn't. But we are always striving to do the very best we can for every individual monk seal because every individual matters in this species. In terms of the longer-term, bigger picture, though, this is something that, despite our very best efforts to minimize stress for her, it's so hard on the animal. It requires so much capacity in terms of personnel and facilities, and drugs. Just getting the amount of drugs that we need to treat a 500-pound animal has been a huge challenge and we've leaned on veterinary clinics around the state, even folks sending us stuff from the mainland. So, it's not the answer to the bigger problem that this disease - which, we haven't mentioned yet but it's transmitted in cat feces—exclusively spread into the environment by cat feces, and so really dealing with this threat means addressing the source of the cause, and that's not treating seals individual by individual. But we're gonna keep trying and we're going to keep doing everything we can for Pohaku, that's for sure.
AA: Thanks. I know that folks have a lot of other questions and so hopefully we'll get a chance to do a couple more of these type of updates and share some more information as we go forward on how Pohaku's doing, what we're doing to try to help, and what folks out there who are listening can do to help address the threat of toxoplasmosis to Hawaiian monk seals and other native wildlife here in Hawai'i.
MB: Thanks everybody.
AA: Thanks for listening.

You’ve been listening to a production of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Communications. Thanks for listening. For more information visit

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NOAA's Pacific Islands Region would like to share information about current events and activities in the region! In the "Pohaku Chronicles" series, we will share updates about the monk seal Pohaku being cared for by a NOAA Fisheries team in Honolulu, Hawaii. Pohaku is an adult female seal who has been diagnosed with a case of toxoplasmosis. We know a lot of people are concerned about her so we will share her status via our podcast.