Surgery to Treat Hydrocephalus in a Seal Proves Successful

March 13, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

For the first time, a team of veterinary specialists has performed surgery to treat hydrocephalus in a Northern fur seal named Ziggy Star.

A neurosurgical team at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, Massachusetts has successfully performed surgery to stop the progression of hydrocephalus in a Northern fur seal named Ziggy Star. The procedure is believed to be the first of its kind ever performed on a seal.

The surgery, which took place late last year, involved placing a shunt catheter through Ziggy Star’s brain and down into her abdomen where the fluid could drain. The surgical team included specialists from Cummings Veterinary Medical Center and Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where Ziggy Star lives. Ziggy’s trainers and a boarded anesthesiologist who specializes in marine mammals were also present. With no published research on similar procedures in pinnipeds, veterinarians relied heavily on their experience treating the condition in other species.


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“The ability to successfully complete this procedure with many unknown factors is due in large part to the collaboration among colleagues at Cummings and Mystic,” said Ane Uriarte, DVM, lead neurosurgeon at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “The combined expertise and skills from all our areas of specialty—from neurosurgery to anesthesia and zoological medicine—was critical to this success.”

Ziggy Star was first brought to Mystic Aquarium in March 2014 after she was found stranded on the coast of California suffering from significant neurologic disease. Since her arrival, the seal has received around-the-clock care from a team of dedicated trainers and veterinarians.

In September 2017, Ziggy Star experienced increased difficulty moving, reduced training response, and cluster seizures that required veterinary intervention. She was brought to the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center where an MRI revealed nonhypertensive hydrocephalus, a condition that develops slowly over time.

While this surgical procedure could not reverse damage already caused by excess fluid, it did stop the progression of Ziggy’s condition, improving her quality of life, level of responsiveness, and mobility.

During her lengthy postoperative recovery, Ziggy Star experienced a few episodes of seizure activity that required treatment by Mystic Aquarium veterinarians. However, her recovery has been progressing and Ziggy Star is currently being monitored in an off-exhibit habitat at Mystic Aquarium.

Ziggy Star’s surgery and recovery have been recapped in Mystic Aquarium’s first episode of “Aquarium Rehab” on Facebook Watch. The aquarium's Facebook page also posts updates on Ziggy's ongoing recovery which recently included a video showing Ziggy standing up for the first time and interacting with fur seal pups.