Submitted by siri.hakala on Mon, 04/20/2020 - 21:10
Podcast Transcript
Speaker 1:
Welcome to the NOAA Fisheries Podcast.
Angela Amlin:
Aloha. I'm Angela Amlin.
Michelle Barbieri:
And I'm Michelle Barbieri.
Angela Amlin:
Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Pohaku Chronicles. We do want to apologize in advance that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are recording this from home, and so there might be a little bit of background noise, and the sound quality might be less than what you're used to. But we did want to make sure that we were keeping the public informed about Pohaku and her story.
Michelle Barbieri:
We also want to make sure that we say that we hope everyone listening is doing well at home as best as can be during these unusual times.
Angela Amlin:
Absolutely. Sadly, we have to share the news that Pohaku passed away on April 1st after a little more than a two month battle with toxoplasmosis. We wanted to talk a little bit about what her care looked like, and how she was doing in the last couple of weeks since we gave an update. Michelle, can you talk a little bit about that?
Michelle Barbieri:
I can. I can give a little bit of an update in terms of how things were going in those last weeks. Before I do, I want to acknowledge the heroic contributions of the entire team at Ke Kai Ola. They've been caring for Pohaku since she was transferred there after about the fourth week of care. They have been doing such a great job through all of this, and I know that it is something that weighs heavily on their hearts as well. So we just really want to make sure that we first up acknowledge all the hard work that that team has put in.
Michelle Barbieri:
In terms of Pohaku and the last few weeks, I think it's helpful to go back to something that we've acknowledged on previous podcasts in saying that we know that she had a long and uncertain road towards any sort of recovery potential, and ultimately while it's a very sad thing to have this outcome, we do stand to learn a great deal from her that we can apply moving forward.
Michelle Barbieri:
Some of the things that were developing, we had some initial successes, many ups and downs throughout her care, and over the last several weeks that stagnated. One of the things that was the biggest challenge was inappetence. She just didn't really want to eat on her own, and no matter what we'd do, getting sufficient calories for an adult animal in is something that's very challenging to do if they're not eating on their own.
Michelle Barbieri:
Better understanding all of that will come in time, but what we surmise right now is that that lack of appetite could have been due to any number or combination of factors, including the fact that she had to be on medications to save her life, and those aren't without side effects that could impact her gastrointestinal system and affect her appetite. Also, the fact that being in human care is a stressor in and of itself.
Michelle Barbieri:
Then underlying all of this stuff is the acknowledgement that toxoplasmosis is something that can have chronic impact, and it can affect the brain, and how it manifests itself in the chronic stages is something that is very difficult to measure. But it's very important to notice that it probably played a role in all of those things in terms of her decline. Again, once we get some more information in the weeks ahead, I think we will stand to put that in this context even better and learn a lot more as we go forward.
Angela Amlin:
Let's talk a little bit more about that. I think we frequently mention when we're communicating about seals that have passed, that we conduct postmortem exams, and that we can learn a lot from them, but maybe we can expand a little bit on the kinds of tests that we run, and what we can learn from those tests.
Michelle Barbieri:
Yeah, we can talk about that. The main thing that guides everything else is something called histopathology. That's where the tissue samples from all of the organs that are collected at the time of the initial examination are put into a preservative, and then they're cut into really, really thin sections, and put on microscope slides with stain added so that the cellular level of the disease process can be viewed.
Michelle Barbieri:
That will then be used to guide any additional diagnostic tests for specific diseases and pathogens that we might be interested in. For Pohaku, I think we will stand to learn a lot more about what the chronic stage of this infection looked like, and it might help us really look back with more solid information about how effective the drugs were at targeting that parasite and the inflammation that it causes. That will be the first and biggest step in terms of the tests that are to come.
Angela Amlin:
One of the things we do know though is that even though this will give us a lot of information that will help with the medical care of future monk seals that are affected by toxoplasmosis, is we know that the treatment is not the solution to this issue. It's very resource intensive in terms of medications, money, manpower. It's stressful for the animal, and the outcome still remains uncertain. This is the first time that a monk seal has survived this long under care for this disease. So it shows us that we really need to address this issue at the source, which is keeping cats safe indoors and off the landscape so toxoplasmosis isn't getting into the environment and impacting monk seals and other wildlife in Hawaii.
Michelle Barbieri:
I think that's a really important context to keep in mind through all of this. We will stand to learn a lot more, and while this has been a very somber podcast today, we hope that we'll be able to find some silver linings in terms of what we learned from Pohaku and would apply to other animals in the future. But as you said, Angela, the reality of dealing with this threat more comprehensively is not going to be found in treating the individual monk seals that are sick with this disease. So there's a lot more to come, and we hope to be able to continue to talk about that through podcasts and other means in the future.
Angela Amlin:
We hope that everyone out there is staying well, and we will come back within the next few weeks when we have more information, and continue to share about Pohaku, and the other monk seals, and toxoplasmosis, and the other conservation challenges here in Hawaii. In the meantime, [Hawaiian 00:07:01] for your time, and take care.
Michelle Barbieri:
[Hawaiian 00:07:04]. Stay well.
Speaker 1:
You've been listening to a production of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Communications. Thanks for listening. For more information, visit www.fisheries.noaa.gov

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Listen to updates from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and Pacific Islands Regional Office about Pohaku the Hawaiian monk seal, who sadly recently passed away, and learn about a major threat to Hawaiian monk seals: the disease toxoplasmosis.