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California Sea Lion Laverne’s Long Recovery

With the help of a new eye gel treatment that aided in her recovery from a painful cataract, sea lion pup Laverne was released after seven months of rehabilitation.

January 12, 2017

California sea lion Laverne © The Marine Mammal Center

When California sea lion pup Laverne arrived at The Marine Mammal Center last spring, our team diagnosed her with malnutrition, severe pneumonia and progressive left eye inflammation. Though she recovered from her pneumonia and gained a healthy amount of weight within a few months, her eye health deteriorated, developing into a painful cataract.

Our experts partnered with veterinarians at Animal Eye Care in Fremont graciously donated their time to perform a cataract surgery to remove the damaged lens in October, giving Laverne a chance to keep her eye.

Laverne’s recovery was prolonged as the cataract was difficult to remove, and swelling and inflammation flared up after surgery. Our veterinary experts knew she needed antibiotics to treat any infection and anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the swelling.

“Eye injuries are very common in marine mammals because their eyes are very large and prominent,” says Conservation Medicine Veterinarian Dr. Claire Simeone. “Historically we’ve had to treat these patients with eye drops, which can be very difficult because wild animals don’t like to sit still to have eye drops multiple times a day.”

Luckily for Laverne, Dr. Simeone and other veterinarians at the Center had been working on a new treatment option for our pinniped patients needing eye medication: a slow-release gel that retains drugs like antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications at the site of the injection for up to a week.

The thermodynamic gel is a liquid when refrigerated, allowing it to be mixed with multiple medications, and then becomes a gel as it warms to room temperature.

California sea lions like Laverne aren’t the only patients to receive this special treatment—our veterinary experts have also used this gel in treating elephant seals and harbor seals and have found it to be a useful alternative to daily eye drops.

Because the eye gel treatment is only needed once a week, it causes the animal less stress and requires less human interaction, which is especially important for our wild patients that need long-term care.

Dr. Simeone recently published the results of her study on this treatment, showing that the gel, which is commonly used in human medicine, is safe and effective for treating painful corneal ulcers in pinnipeds. During the study, she found that after a single treatment, 100 percent of superficial ulcers had healed within seven days.

The study is the first of its kind for marine mammals and was funded in part by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. This new treatment will help us improve our care for pinnipeds with painful eye diseases and holds particular promise for animals impacted by oil spills as petroleum contains substances that are irritating to the eye, and ulcers are frequent.

Watch a video about this breakthrough eye therapy for pinnipeds:

Laverne had a long road to recovery, but after about seven months of rehabilitation, she was cleared for release on December 7 and returned home just in time for the holidays!

California sea lion Laverne is released back to the ocean
Photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center

You Can Be a Marine Mammal Hero

Help provide the critical veterinary care that marine mammal pups like Laverne need to be successfully returned to their ocean home. Your support goes a long way to help these animals get a second chance at life.


Stay in touch! Learn more about our pinniped patients and follow their fascinating stories.

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