From WAMU 88.5 and American University in Washington, it's "The Animal House," connecting you with everything that concerns the animal world. I'm Sam Litzinger. There's new information about the intelligence and sensitivity of certain animal species, and today we'll hear the details from a noted animal behaviorist. Dr. Gary Weitzman will handle questions about your favorite animal companions later in the program, and in a few minutes we find out how surgery has become a viable procedure for improving the health of your pet fish. But first...
That's an excerpt from the Disney Pixar movie "Finding Nemo" which displays an ocean teeming with a wide array of sea creatures. The resulting popularity of some of fish portrayed eventually led to a new study that suggests the realities of life under the sea are very different from what we see on the screen and the celebrity of various aquatic species such as sharks may be one of the factors contributing to their extinction.
One person who knows quite a good deal about the plight of marine life is Juliet Eilperin who reports on environmental issues for The Washington Post. She's also the author of the book "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks," and she speaks to us from the Post's Washington D.C. headquarters. Glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
I'm thrilled to be here.
So is it really the exciting wildly populated world of the movie "Finding Nemo" down there?
You know, what's really interesting is that of course the folks at Pixar and Disney, they really took the glamorous creatures. They took the highlights. Ironically, you know, one thing that's interesting is that the whole storyline of Nemo is that here's a clownfish who's plucked for the aquarium trade, and both the movie really sparked a real demand for clownfish, for example people's fish tanks, and so we did certainly see population pressures being exerted on some clownfish for example in Australia in reefs, and so you saw native clownfish populations decline, but also just all sorts of pretty clownfish and damselfish are taken regularly, and the scientists found that 18 percent of these species face some threat of extinction. So it's true that the more we like them, sometimes they get into trouble.
We hear so much bad news, is there any encouraging story coming out of the deep?
Well, actually, one of the more unusual stories that is just emerging out of Australia, there's a couple species of Black Tip Sharks, one's called the Common Black Tip Shark, and then there's the Australian Black Tip Shark which is less common, and one thing that's so fascinating is scientists have just discovered that the two species have mated and produced a hybrid shark that actually can swim from warmer to cooler waters and has a greater distribution along the coast of Australia. And so that's actually a fascinating example of evolution in action.
In terms of where we're going, is there a reason to be optimistic about this and in terms of "Finding Nemo," what's the lesson I guess that should be taken away?
I think there is reason to be optimistic, because I think that people do appreciate the sea in a way that they might not have in the past, or certainly are learning that we can't take it for granted. People are just beginning to think that we are at this tipping point, and we have a choice of what to do.
Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, also the author of the book "Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks." Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Thanks so much, Sam.
Pet owners of course will go to great lengths to protect the health of their favorite animals from regular veterinary visits to complicated dietary regimens to costly surgical procedures. Our next guest falls under the latter category. He's Dr. Greg Lewbart, a professor of aquatic animal medicine at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and a pioneer in fish surgery, a relatively unusual practice which is growing in popularity.
Dr. Lewbart speaks to us from the Durham, North Carolina Studios at public radio station WUNC. Dr. Lewbart, thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Thanks for having me, Sam.
Now, when you say fish surgery, a lot a people probably say, what? How often do you get that reaction?
Pretty frequently, even from colleagues in the veterinary profession.
How'd you get into this?
Back in the '80s when I was in school, I sort of had this dream of working at an aquarium with dolphins and sea turtles, and that was a hard go back then, so I took a part-time job at a local pet store in Philadelphia, and started learning about fish and aquariums and filtration, and then fortuitously, the wholesaler that sold fish to this little corner pet store which was quite successful, offered me a full-time job as his more or less herd health veterinarian, and I've been doing that ever since.
I gotta ask, how does one anesthetize a fish, please?
So what we would do, we would, you know, carefully handle the fish, place it in some sort of a container. Then we add our anesthetic to the water, then they absorb it into their blood stream and they go to sleep, and that usually takes three to five minutes, dependent on the species and the dose. We wait until they basically stop swimming, stop finning, but they're still respiring. Then we put the fish on a device we sort of affectionately call our Fish Anesthesia Delivery System.
If you could picture a fountain in your backyard, maybe for a birdbath, that's all it is. You've got a pump, a tube, water squirts out of the tube, and instead of falling into a little fountain or some other vessel, we put the tube in the fish's mouth, and then the water flows over both sets of gills, gills on either side, and then once we have it finely tuned, then the fish is under anesthesia.
And the fish is out of water. I should qualify that. If it was under water, obviously it would make surgery more challenging, so we based it once in awhile with like a little red catheter, or even nothing more elaborate than a turkey baster in some cases, although usually at the veterinary college it's a syringe. And then we cover it with a plastic drape, a sterile drape, and we're set to go.
I'm astonished at this. What's the future for fish surgery?
There probably are between a hundred and 200 veterinarians in this country now that have done some fish surgery.
Can you give our listeners some idea of the price involved?
So let's say this fish I'm talking about that's standing on its head right now to do an exploratory surgery with some diagnostic testing, probably about a thousand dollars.
You must have sworn off eating fish entirely.
I love fish, Sam. I love eating fish. I gotta tell you, it's probably my favorite food to eat, and worse than that, again, I'm just telling you my story I guess (laugh) , worse than that is I'm a fisherman. I guess that's just the reality of it. I haven't really come to terms with what I do as my day job.
You amaze me. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Sam, thanks for having me. It was my pleasure.
Dr. Greg Lewbart, a professor of aquatic animal medicine at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He spoke to us from the Durham, North Carolina studios at public radio station WUNC.
For "The Animal House," I'm Michael Stein, and this is "Birdnote." At this time of year, we celebrate the migratory birds that for eons have made the journey between their winter homes and their summer breed grounds. As human kind has increasingly put its stamp on the landscape, life has changed for birds. They were hunted, sometimes to extinction. Their stopover points were disturbed, forests cut down, and lakes and wetlands drained.
It became clear that we needed federal laws to protect the birds. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act expanded on earlier legislation and gave much needed protection to birds, especially migratory songbirds.
No longer could they be hunted, and their habitat came under protection too. In 1940, the U.S. and 17 other countries throughout the Americas signed a pact. They vowed to protect and preserve in their natural habitat representatives of all species of their native flora and fauna. Birds don't recognize political boundaries, but they do depend on places to call home, and as a result of international accord, they and some of their habitat are now protected. There's still more to do. Begin at our website, birdnote.org.
In a few moments, Dr. Gary Weitzman will join us with answers to your questions about pets. First lets learn more about our Animal of the day. Earlier, we heard a reference to the film "Finding Nemo" which features a wide variety of aquatic life. Do you know which species of fish Nemo belongs to? Bet your kids do. We'll have the answer just before the end of today's program. Next week in "The Animal House..."
That's John Fulton, host of Animal Planet TV's "Must Love Cats." We'll meet him next week in "The Animal House."
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