Monday, April 16, 2007

Virga, by definition, are......

...wisps of precipitation that evaporate before reaching the ground. But when I speak of Virga, I am speaking of this GORGEOUS creature we got in a week and a half ago!!!

It's a California sea lion! We believe she is about 2-3 years old and she weighs ~150lbs. She was found on nearby Shaw Island, walking down the road about 1/2 mile from the ferry dock and upon approaching her, it was discovered she was blind! She was taken in by a local marine mammal expert/wildlife vet, given lots of fluids, and then transferred to Wolf Hollow. The next day her eyesight was returning and by Saturday she could see just fine. But why she had lost her eyesight was still a mystery. She was given a full examination and invasive injury, like a gunshot wound, was ruled out. And because she had regained her eyesight, congenital blindness was also ruled out. One of the scarier possibilities, as the outcome of animals with this is not good, is Domoic acid poisoning.

Domoic acid is produced by harmful algal blooms in the ocean. These are the same algal blooms that cause "red tide" in shellfish. This occurs when algae bloom in significant numbers and produce a nasty biotoxin. Fish and shellfish can eat these without any harm. But the toxins accumulate and become concentrated so that when any other animal, be it pinnepeds, birds, or man, eats the fish or shellfish, they become poisoned. This can quickly become a deadly situation. The toxin goes into the brain and can mess with nerve signal transmission, causing permanent brain damage along the way.

And, I am sure this comes as no surprise to you, man plays an intricate role in how these harmful algal blooms come to be, as warmth along with the right nutrients are needed for these to grow. So with global warming heating things up and runoff into the ocean from the likes of ship ballast water, untreated sewage, and farming practices providing the much needed nutrients, the conditions are just right. We are seeing more and more of these harmful algal blooms every year.

So, what other symptoms are we keeping an eye out for when it comes to monitoring Virga? We are looking for seizures, whisker twitching, and vomiting among other things. So far, after her being monitored every half hour for over a week and now every hour, she has shown no signs of anything else amiss, so we are keeping our fingers crossed and remain hopeful. If she has it and starts having seizures, she most likely would have to be euthanized, as she wouldn't be able to survive out in the wild.

Because she was doing better on her first Saturday with us, we let her into the main section of the wet pen, which she ran around exploring and eating the herring we were tossing everywhere.

We also filled the pond with a foot of water, which she immediately dove into.

Because we were still monitoring her extra closely for seizures and whatnot, we dared not fill it up more than that, much to her dismay when she tried to swim in it, TRIED being the operative word here.

Now, she is completely different from Sedna, the Steller sea lion we got in last year around this time. She is sleeker, more aerodynamic looking, and MAN, can she MOVE! She is not aggressive at all, but her speed alone is a bit intimidating. The other difference is her intellect. She is VERY intelligent. So much so that we had to do this:

Yep, we had to jimmy-rig the doors so she couldn't get out, as she had figured out how to open the bottom latch to the inside door! But hey, I'll take that and speed over Steller aggression any day!

We do have in a few other animals besides Virga, including my first raven and a Great Blue Heron, but I will write a different post regarding them, as I thought Virga was special enough for her own posting. Keep your fingers and other bits crossed for her! Til next time...