Yesterday, Davis and myself and another veterinary student had the amazing opportunity to spend a day shadowing one of the veterinarians at Marineland in Niagara Falls.
I'll preface this with a short blurb saying that I have worked with marine mammals before during a summer as a research assistant at the Vancouver Aquarium. I wanted to visit Marineland because I am interested in working with wildlife - though not necessarily in a zoo or aquarium, more likely with wild animals in a research setting.
I do have an ethical stance on keeping animals in captivity in zoos and aquaria that I won't delve too deeply into at the moment. Suffice it to say that I don't personally believe that zoos and aquaria are inherently cruel, and I believe that captive animals can serve a greater good for their species in the wild, however for me to be morally comfortable with it I have my own minimum requirements in terms of educational and conservation goals of the institute, as well as habitats for the animals. I have visited places that I felt met these standards, and others that really did not. Again, this is just my own beliefs, and in no way do these reflect those of Marineland or the vet college, nor are they a judgment or exoneration of these places.
Anyway. The veterinarian at Marineland was really excellent, and was kind enough to take us around on her day. We started off with breakfast for belugas, and were able twice in the day to feed them! We were each assigned a beluga and mine, serendipitously, was named Tofino. I was shown how to scratch them under the chin to signal the start of mealtime, then slide the fish into his pink and fleshy throat. Beluga skin is quite soft and yielding, and they peer at you with mischievous and intelligent blue eyes. We followed the trainer and vet as they checked over the orca, and were shown where you would take blood from - it's the tail fluke vein and (thank you fotolia) can be seen in this photo crossing the tail from the corners diagonally to the centre.
Between beluga feedings we went to visit the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), walruses, and dolphins. The vet stopped to check out one of the dolphins who had been reluctant during the morning's show, but fortunately she was given a clean bill of health. These are bottlenose dolphins of the Black Sea subspecies, and enjoy getting a head scratch. Dolphin skin is a little firmer than beluga skin and more rubbery - apparently they are always shedding dead skin and love getting it rubbed off - like me and my Biore exfoliator, I guess.
In the afternoon we went to check on some bison that had been injured in fights. Bison are massive animals - males can weigh nearly a ton with huge shaggy heads and pointy horns. To treat them you have to get them in a chute much like you do with cattle - our squeeze looked much like this one and basically secures the animal so you can examine it. All the wounds we saw were pretty superficial and were treated with a thorough antiseptic wash, skin regenerating cream, and antibiotics.
After the bison, Davis decided he wanted to end our day with a ride on the Sky Screamer. So we voluntarily catapulted ourselves 450 feet in the air.
It gave us a nice view of the belugas.