A fur seal named Ziggy Star is thought to be the first of her species to undergo brain surgery at a university in Connecticut.
Ziggy lives at the Mystic Aquarium there but was transferred to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in November for treatment for her long-term neurological condition.
When Ziggy was taken in by the aquarium four years ago, she had been deemed unfit for release back into the wild after being found stranded on a California beach.
Lately Ziggy’s condition has meant she suffered seizures and had difficulty moving due to the accumulation of cerebral spinal fluid in her brain, a condition known as hydrocephalus.
“The MRI taken recently by our team showed that the brain was disappearing due to the excess fluid, and it was significantly worse than the last study four years ago,” said Cummings’ lead neurosurgeon, Ane Uriarte.
“After discussion with Mystic’s veterinary team, we determined the best option to prevent further deterioration of the brain and to improve Ziggy’s symptoms was to surgically place a shunt to drain the excess fluid, relieving some of the pressure on the brain.”
The team were forced to base their surgery plan on operations on other animals, as they could not find documented cases of this type of surgery on seals, sea lions or walrus.
Despite that, it took just over one hour and Ziggy was back at the aquarium in a private habitat the next day, despite some seizures which prolonged her recovery.
So far, Ziggy’s recovery is going well.
“She is showing marked progress daily; eating a full diet; moving well within her habitat and showing normal swim patterns,” said Jen Flower, chief clinical veterinarian at Mystic Aquarium.
“No additional seizures have been noted post-operatively.”