That day when your veterinarian helped with Shark Conservation

That day when your veterinarian helped with the sharks. 

Recently, when one of our veterinarians, Dr. Ahalt, was seeing clients at Brunswick Veterinary Clinic  a question came in that he wasn't expecting from the American Shark Conservancy:  can you put surgical staples into a shark to help close a small incision?  

 Photo credit: Hannah Medd

Photo credit: Hannah Medd

The question centered around whether the staples would hold, and the best type to use based on the "physical characteristics of the area on the body [of the shark] where the incision is, it's body wall thickness, tension and movement."  

We were pretty interested in how this question came up, as we can honestly put our hand on our hearts and say that in over twenty years in the practice of veterinary medicine Dr. Ahalt has never been asked that, so we asked the marine biologist who posed the question, Hannah Medd and her answer was pretty fascinating!  Here is what she said:  

The American Shark Conservancy helps run a research project off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida, tagging and tracking large coastal species of sharks. When we catch them, we implant acoustic tags into their body cavity by making a small incision and then suturing up the hole using non absorbable silicone coated, braided polyester suture. We suture right in the middle of the incision to make sure the tag stays in, not to close the incision. They heal ridiculously fast. On some boats, we can get the animal on deck and that can make the suturing a little easier but lots of times we suture over the side of the boat while the shark is tied up along side. It is really difficult when the seas are a little rough and you’re dealing with a fully cognisant 12 foot hammerhead shark that is rearing up at you. And time is of the essence because these big-bad sharks get pretty stressed out so we try to do the whole work up in less than 10 minutes.

We started to question whether or not anyone in our field uses surgical staples to close the small incision. We thought it could be a faster and easier option that would allow us to get the sharks safely back in the water to ensure optimal post-release health. Also making it easier on the scientist performing the surgery in field conditions.

This is when we turned to Dr. Ahalt for advice on this application. We discussed the physical characteristics of the area on the body where the incision is, it’s body wall thickness, tension and movement. He was a great help in better understanding the stapler and deciding which one to look at further. With his guidance, we could be looking at a safer way to finish a shark surgery for both the scientists and the sharks.
— Hannah Medd

We think this was a pretty cool question and a great cause!  If you have a moment, check out the great work that the American Shark Conservancy has, and the next time there is a shark warning off the coast of MD and the shark is tagged, take a moment and wonder whether the alert is coming from a tag that is possibly stapled by the American Shark Conservancy thanks to the advice of your veterinarian! 

 Photo Credit: Dan Geary 

Photo Credit: Dan Geary 

 Photo credit: CJ Crooks

Photo credit: CJ Crooks

 Photo credit: Dan Geary

Photo credit: Dan Geary