On The Line is a NOAA Fisheries podcast about marine fish and wildlife and their ocean habitats, with stories from people who study, manage and protect these valuable resources on behalf of the American public. Each podcast comes with photos and a short web feature story.
Angela Amlin: Yup.
Michelle Barbie...: All right, let's do it. Hello everyone. And welcome to the fifth edition of the Pohaku Chronicles. I'm Michelle Barbieri.
Angela Amlin: And I'm Angela Angela Amlin.
Michelle Barbie...: And we're here today to talk with you about the latest information on Pohaku's case. It's been several weeks since we've recorded a podcast and that's because it's taken us quite some time to collect all of the information and distill all of that. And we're ready to talk with you all about what we've learned from Pohaku's case in the wake of her death. And at the end of this, we're going to have an important announcement about the future of The Pohaku Chronicles. So thanks for listening.
Angela Amlin: So this case is a little different. A lot of times when we're performing a necropsy and these post-mortem task, we're trying to figure out what the cause of death was for the animal. And in this case, we do know that. We know Pohaku died of toxoplasmosis, but what we didn't necessarily know is how toxo actually impacted her and what effects if any, our treatment had. Then once we have that information, how can that better inform our future efforts? So, Michelle, do you want to talk a little bit about those three factors of what we can learn from this?
Michelle Barbie...: Definitely. So what we've learned in terms Pohaku's death was that the treatment, while it was incredibly intense and required a lot of handling and a lot of resources, it was effective at least in so far as reducing the number of toxoplasma organisms that were in her body compared to what we would expect to see in other monk seals that have died and have not been treated.
For example, often times we will find so many organisms in a small slice of tissue from a dead monk seal with toxo that they're just everywhere. In Pohaku's post-mortem exam microscopically, those organisms were much more sparsely distributed and were actually mostly in the more chronic form in the cystic stage of the parasite. So it does give us a hint that the treatment was effective in terms of ratcheting down those organisms, and also in getting her through the inflammation that they create in the body and helping her survive that initial infection period.
Unfortunately, she still had chronic brain damage from this organism and that's really important to note because it helps us put all these pieces together to see that the bottom line is that we still have a whole lot more to learn about treating monk seals for toxo. The brain damage was substantial. It was essentially areas of her brain had been eaten away by the organism and that is leading us into uncertain territory because we don't know to what extent she would have been able to recover from that brain damage, if at all. We don't know to what extent she could have ever been able to function in the wild as a seal again. So it really certainly helps us feel that we've taken one step towards better understanding this process but that in fact, there are probably more steps in the process than we even realized.
Secondarily, we also found that she suffered from heart failure. That was what was responsible for her death in the immediate term. That heart failure is secondary to the toxoplasma itself, combined with the impact of the treatment process itself. It's been taking some time for us to start to tease all of that out and we probably will never be able to separate all of that out very clearly, but suffice it to say that the secondary impacts of this disease process on her heart were meaningful. It also teaches us that we have a whole lot more to learn in that area, as well.
Angela Amlin: So when you're talking about some of the secondary impacts and tying that in with the treatment process, is there any parallel to something that a lot of our listeners might unfortunately be a little bit more familiar with, which is the process of chemotherapy to treat cancer in that this is a very intense treatment. It can take a lot out of the person who's being treated and while it can ultimately have success in and treat the cancer and bring people out on the other side, there is some negative side effects or some damage that can be done by the process treatment itself.
Michelle Barbie...: Yeah. I think even though she wasn't receiving chemotherapy drugs, I think that's a good analogy because we knew we had to try. And we knew we had to explore these options, even though they were going to be things that required her to be handled every day for six weeks and given a bunch of medications until she was able to eat on her own. And so, I think that that is something that is a great way to put perspective on all of this, Angela.
Angela Amlin: Well and while we may be wrapping up in a sense, what we have learned about Pohaku in this case, there's still a long way to go as you're talking about and learning that treatment in and of itself is not the answer. This is still impacting seals and there's a lot more to be done on the ground, as well as in terms of what we can do for animals that do end up in our care if we get more in the future.
Michelle Barbie...: Yeah. And undoubtedly, we will and we will continue to try. Even before Pohaku we have said time and again, that we don't think that treatment's the answer to this threat to the species, but we're definitely going to try and try we did. We will continue to do so, but ultimately I think we've come to the realization that, that aspect of trying is going to be a lot more arduous than we even expected. It's going to be a challenging road ahead and probably a very long one.
So meanwhile, it's important for us to be thinking about all the other ways in which we could try to reduce the threat to the species and try to eliminate that concern for monk seals.
Angela Amlin: And in that vein, we would like to share, as you mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, that we don't want to discontinue this mechanism of sharing with the public. It seems like this has been a really great way to share information with people and an opportunity that we don't normally have. While it may not necessarily be specifically Pohaku focused, although we definitely will not be forgetting her and the lessons we learned and we may talk about her more in the future, we're going to shift to a new podcast, Monk Seal Chronicles, which will broaden up a little bit and let us talk a little bit more about this threat and others. Maybe bring in some guest speakers and we do hope that folks will continue to join us and to learn more about monk seals and about how they can help with monk seal conservation in Hawaii.
Michelle Barbie...: Yeah, it's a somber episode and it's a somber time in many ways, but I think that we want to continue to provide information in this way. We hope that you will all continue to engage with us. Let us know topics that you're interested in. Let us know questions that you have, whether it be about toxo or about other monk seal concerns and threats and we'll try to address those on future episodes.
Angela Amlin: And with that we do hope that you and your families are all staying safe and well in these uncertain times. And we do really appreciate your time. Mahalo for listening.
Michelle Barbie...: Mahalo.