Jellyfish at the CVM?

No, unfortunately they are not on public display, but it’s true: there are live jellyfish at the College of Veterinary Medicine.  Currently a quartet of Aurelia aurita, or Moon Jellyfish, are living in special jellyfish tanks designed to keep the delicate invertebrates comfortable and robust as part of Fisheries & Wildlife Conservation Biology Masters student Mary Doerr’s thesis research efforts.

Moon Jellyfish have arrived at the CVM

The jellyfish arrived in February and are currently acclimating to their new environment. Mary, who is a member of Dr. Michael Stoskopf’s laboratory group, is studying the  physiology and metabolism of jellyfish using moon jellies (A. aurita) as her model.  A key part of her thesis will be characterizing the metabolome of moon jelly fish using NMR spectroscopy.  She hopes to use that information to then study their biochemical adaptations to environmental challenges such as increased temperature, to help us better understand what drives jellyfish blooms that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency in ocean waters around the globe.

Moon Jellyfish in their specialized 5- gallon habitats that provide proper current and water conditions.

After preliminary pilot studies being conducted at the CVM, plans are for moon jelly fish to be among the first animals to be studied using the 4.7T horizontal research magnet in the Marine Magnetic Resonance Facility at CMAST in Morehead City.  Mary’s husbandry work at CVM is already informing her designs for a life support system for jellyfish that fits inside the magnet and will allow individual live jellyfish to be studied repeatedly without harm.


Moon Jellyfish in action

EMC Director Honored

Honors in scientific careers are somewhat rare, compared to some other occupations, but when they come, they are the more special and sometime come in waves.  That is the situation this spring for EMC Director Dr. Michael Stoskopf who has been honored twice in rapid succession by very different organizations.

stewards of future award image 120First, in March, Dr. Stoskopf was named a Steward of the Future by The Research for Ocean Health and Community Sustainability Regional Exchange Group for “his lifelong dedication to the care and health of all animal species through research, teaching and mentoring, research on the environmental impacts on captive and free-ranging/swimming animals, establishment of aquatic and zoological programs for hundreds of veterinary, graduate and undergraduate students, and providing expertise and service to state,
national and international panels and commissions aiding in the protection of aquatic species in North Carolina and globally.”  That is quite a statement but it certainly describes the energetic founder and director of the EMC.

The Research for Ocean Health and Community Sustainability Regional Exchange Group is sponsored by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and NC East Alliance. The goal of the group is to engage scientists, business leaders and policy makers in open discussion on issues of importance in our coastal communities.

alumnus profile imageThen, in April, Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine featured Dr. Stoskopf in an Alumnus Profile.  The article, authored by CSU combined DVM-MPH student Claire Tucker,  features some amusing anecdotes and a bit of advice to veterinary students today.  It is an enjoyable read for all who know Dr. Stoskopf.



Conservation Health in the Galápagos

A new selective taught by Dr. Greg Lewbart introduced a group of excited DVM students to the concepts of conservation health in a very special environment.  The new selective, ” Galápagos Zoology and Medicine” was offered for the first time, taught during what is for most students called Spring Break.


The course immersed students in the famous archipelago’s unique ecology, natural history, and culture during five days of intensive study.  A combination of lecture and field experiences kept students alert and excited.  The very intensive course was based at the Galápagos Science Center on the island of San Cristóbal.

At the Galapagos Science CenterMorning lectures at the science center covered both ecological and clinical subjects, ranging from the biology and medicine of sea turtles, marine iguanas, and sea lions to the impact of plastics pollution in the Galápagos, marine mammal citizen science, and the intricacies of performing field research in a foreign country.  Guest lecturers included Juan Pablo Muñoz and Dani Alarcón-Ruales, both researchers at the Galápagos Science Center who provided valuable insights about the islands and their ecology.

View From Cerro Chico

Students in the course also toured the Charles Darwin Research Center, the conservation-oriented research partner of the Galápagos National Park Service, and visited the Darwin Animal Doctors clinic on Santa Cruz island, which provides free veterinary care for the island’s companion animals and wildlife alike.

Doug Shoots Iguana

Students particularly enjoyed the daily learning excursions, which required hiking, biking, snorkeling, and scuba diving to fully explore the lands and waters of the Galápagos islands.  On these excursions students had the opportunity to come into close contact with the diverse and unusual wildlife of the Galápagos. Particularly exciting were spottings of hammerhead and Galápagos sharks, manta rays, bottle-nose dolphins, Galápagos sea lions, marine iguanas, and animals familiar to North Carolinians, green sea turtles.

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Though it was a highly condensed whirlwind of exploration and learning, the lucky DVM program students in the course returned to NCSU with both new knowledge and extremely valuable experiences that will help inform their future career directions.

The class on the Giant Tortoise Sculpture

Cold Stun Sea Turtles Return To Gulf Stream

Another group of 39 lucky sea turtles being cared for by the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center for cold stun sequelae were successfully released into the Gulf Stream on February 23, 2016.   The large influx of cold stun turtles starting in early January, has pushed the state of the art sea turtle rehabilitation facility to its limits, but  the around-the-clock care by a dedicated staff, careful attention to veterinary care is paying off.  The release of the most recent 39 turtles frees up much needed space for the approximately 90 turtles continuing to occupy the available rehabilitation tanks.

Beasley Addresses Boat     Jean Beasley addresses volunteers aboard the "Vonda Kay" as the ship departs for the Gulf Stream. Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

Beasley Addresses Boat
Jean Beasley addresses volunteers aboard the “Vonda Kay” as the ship departs for the Gulf Stream. Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

The 39 turtles released successfully passed their exit physical examinations conducted by Dr. Craig Harms.  Declared fit and ready for release, they were transferred in the early dawn hours by 20 volunteers onto a local charter boat, the “Vonda Kay” which immediately headed out to find the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The turtles were each individually released to cheers and applause, as they swam off into warmer waters, ready to continue their life journeys in the sea.

     Releasing a young sea turtle over the side of the "Vonda Kay." Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

Releasing a young sea turtle over the side of the “Vonda Kay.” Photo courtesy Ken Blevins/StarNews Media

The journey is far from over for the hardworking folks at the Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. Many turtles affected by the cold or other events continue to need expert care and rehabilitation before they can return to sea.  But every successful release is inspirational for the sea turtle rehabilitation teams of North Carolina.


Jean Beasley (left) is interviewed by a TV reporter. Darth Vader, a young green sea turtle who was admitted this year for cold stun relaxes on a towel. Photo courtesy of Town of Surf City.

Great House Officers Match with EMC

Early February is always a tense time for future clinicians as they anxiously await the national match results.  The nation’s top veterinary candidates and programs wait to hear how well they have fared in the very competitive matching process. It is just as exciting a time for the institutions and faculty who are on the other side of the match.  Massive faculty effort goes into evaluating the many fine applicants and choosing which will be the best for our programs training leaders in zoological health.  The EMC has always enjoyed excellent results from the match and this  year was no exception.  What better way to welcome the temptation of warmer weather than to extend our warmest welcome to our newest veterinary residents & intern.  This year is a particularly important year because it sees 3 rather than 2 new house officers joining us.

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Dr. Michelle Whitehead holds an owl patient named Voldemort.

Dr. Michelle Whitehead, a 2014 DVM graduate from Western College of Veterinary Medicine will joining us as the first ever Zoological Companion Animal resident in the newly established position to focus on privately owned zoological species.  She will be coming to us after completing her internship in zoological medicine & surgery at Texas A&M.  Dr. Whitehead was heavily involved in the Wild and Exotic Animal Medicine Society (WEAMS) during her time at Western and served as president of that organization which is similar to our WAAZM.  She has also studied at the Vancouver Aquarium and at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as well as at the the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. Her passion for education and teaching will surely shine during the small exotics anatomy and physiology wet lab she will be instructing at Texas A&M this spring, and we are excited to have her join us as a resident at NC State.

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Dr. Whitehead with a bear cub treated at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

From a cursory glance it might seem that this year was a sweep for Texas A&M University, and in a sense it was as joining the Exotic Animal Medicine Service as a new intern this July will be Dr. Jane Christman, who will be joining us fresh from a small animal rotating clinical internship at Texas A&M University.  Dr. Christman, however, is a dedicated Spartan, having earned her DVM in 2015 from Michigan State University.  She is excited to be joining the EAMS team and has long held a career in zoological medicine as her long-term goal.



Dr. Jane Christman will be starting her career in zoological health as the new EAMS intern next year.

Last, but certainly not least, returning to the NCSU fold this year as the new Zoological Medicine first year Resident will be Dr. Kate Archibald, NCSU DVM class of 2014.  After graduating from NC State, Dr. Archibald completed a small animal rotating internship at VCA West Los Angeles before joining the team at the Omaha Zoo as a zoological medicine intern.  Dr. Archibald is well known to us and is an outstanding clinician and an active researcher having published with many of the EMC faculty and others on a wide array of species including bullfrogs, blue crabs, waxy monkey frogs, and tarantulas.

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Dr. Kate Archibald hugs a Zoo Camp volunteer.

During her time at NCSU, Dr. Archibald was also an active participant in the creation of ZTAU masterplan for the College of Veterinary Medicine’s emerging Zoological Teaching Animal Unit. She was among the first pioneering veterinary students that collaborated with graduate students from the College of Design to create a plan to bringing NC State’s emphasis on experiential education to the teaching of zoological medicine.  We are excited to have her back and not just because of all of the work that is available to be done on further implementing the ZTAU master plans that started with the completion of the first ZTAU installment, Wolf Prowl.

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Dr. Kate Archibald (second from left) works with fellow DVM and Design graduate students on the ZTAU master plan development.


Heatwole becomes Emeritus

On Friday, February 12th, NCSU faculty & students gathered in the lobby of David Clark Labs to issue a very fond farewell to Dr. Harold Heatwole, who is retiring after 25 years at the university. Dr. Heatwole has been a beloved and respected member of the Zoology department since his arrival as department head in 1991. Serving in that capacity for 4 years, he then turned his focus toward teaching and his research on the physiology and natural history of reptilia. His reputation as a passionate and engaging coworker and professor is well deserved and his courses in General Biology and Ecology, Comparative Anatomy, and Herpetology were student favorites.  The herpetology course was particularly popular with DVM program students because Dr. Heatwole was willing to teaching it on weekends to facilitate their taking the class.

Before coming to North Carolina, Dr. Heatwole was a professor at the University of New England in Australia, where his research on the Great Barrier Reef positioned him as the world’s preeminent scholar on sea snakes.  In fact, he literally wrote the book on the subject, to considerable acclaim. He is one of the lucky few who have ever survived a sea snake envenomation, fitting considering that he spent more than twenty years studying venomous snakes and their ecology during his time in New South Wales.heatwole sea snake book


Dr. Heatwole’s expertise extends beyond herpetology, and includes microorganisms, protozoans, invertebrates, fish, birds, mammals, fungi, as well as vascular plants. He holds degrees in botany, zoology and geography.  A prolific writer, he has authored over three hundred peer-reviewed articles and a total of seven books.  He also has edited two multi-volume monograph series, and has served on the editorial board for numerous publications.  His professional service has included serving as president of the Australian Society of Herpetologists, the Great Barrier Reef Committee, and the Australian Coral Reef Society.

Australian Society of Herpetology 1967.  Harold Heatwole first row second from left.

Australian Society of Herpetology 1967. Harold Heatwole first row second from left.

His research has taken him to environmental extremes on all seven continents, and his passion for his work and pioneering attitude earned him a fellowship in the prestigious and exclusive Explorer’s Club. He has instilled a proper exploratory attitude in  his students, encouraging them to broaden their global horizons throughout his career. He has organized field courses at the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, the Namib Desert, and even Antarctica.

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Hal Heatwole (front left) with students on a research project.

Dr. Heatwole’s transition ceremony was attended by many friends and colleagues who he entertained with his tireless, sprightly, and sporting sense of humor.  Wearing his trademark fanny pack, he assured his well-wishers that his work would continue both in North Carolina and in Australia.  Among other things, he hopes to continue his recent efforts  developing a videography portfolio for use in distance education to bring the global classroom to a broader audience.

NC Zoo Polar Bear Introduction Going Swimmingly

Valentine’s day has come and gone, but it seems love is still in the air over at the North Carolina Zoo. Nikita is a 9 year old male polar bear who was brought to North Carolina from the Kansas City zoo in early January, in the hopes of pairing him with Anana, the zoo’s 16 year old resident female. Sparks, reportedly, did not fly with his old mate in Kansas City, so the Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided it was time to let Nikita have another shot at romance while he is still in his prime.

Nikita playing

Nikita is known for his charisma & playful attitude

Nikita was accompanied on his journey from Kansas City by the EMC’s second-year zoological medicine resident, Dr. Sarah Cannizzo and one of the NC Zoo’s bear keepers. The transportation team handled all of the small glitches that go with flying a polar bear from Kansas City through Memphis to Ashboro, NC with ease and grace.  After spending about a month in routine biosecurity quarantine and then in nearby holding to get acclimated to his new surroundings, Nikita was introduced to Anana in a private meeting off of exhibit last Wednesday, February 10th. New introductions can be unpredictable, but the bears appear to have taken an immediate shine to each other. Weighing in at 600 and 1,200 pounds, respectively, Anana and Nikita make an odd couple, but they are getting along so well that they can now be seen on exhibit together happily exploring side-by-side.

Nikita and Anana walking

Nikita (left) and Anana (right) taking a stroll around the exhibit

Less than 20% of all AZA-accredited institutions house polar bears, for a total of only 60 bears on exhibit across the United States. The decline in their wild populations means that captive breeding efforts are more important than ever for their survival, and, as his mother was born in the wild, Nikita’s genes are particularly valuable for maintaining diversity among captive polar bear populations. Nikita’s sire and grandsire were both known for their virility, and the hope is that he will be able to continue his lineage’s impressive breeding record. It is still too early to tell, but with any luck the Valentine’s weekend romance budding between Nikita and Anana will result in a conservation victory for polar bears everywhere.

Nikita nuzzles Anana

An affectionate introduction

EMC Faculty Respond to Record Sea Turtle Cold Stun Numbers

Cold Stun Syndrome, a debilitating state of hypothermia seen in sea turtles along the Atlantic coast of North America is a concern every winter.  This winter, however, an unseasonably warm December, followed by precipitous drops in temperature after the New Year, caught record numbers of young green sea turtles inshore where they are very vulnerable to Cold Stun Syndrome.  As a result, the beaches and shorelines of North Carolina were littered with unfortunate, juvenile green, loggerhead and a few Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles who were taking advantage of the food in the NC sounds when the cold snap hit, rather than having migrated out to the warmer waters of the Sargassum  as they normally would have done.

Nearly 1000 animals were found between January 5th and 7th alone, with a second wave bringing numbers up to approximately 1600 affected animals. Incapacitated by the cold, these turtles would suffer a slow, wintry demise without the concentrated rescue efforts of stranding responses up and down the coast.

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Recording green sea turtle cold stuns near Cape Lookout, January 20th


For such large numbers of affected animals, triage is an unfortunate feature of the rescue effort and EMC faculty and residents working out of CMAST and the STAR facility on Roanoke Island, are heavily involved in examining and triaging the large numbers of turtles being recovered by NC sea turtle stranding response participants.  Dr. Craig Harms and Dr. Emily Christiansen always bear the major brunt of these long days and nights but Dr. Greg Lewbart, Suzanne Kennedy-Stoskopf and Michael Stoskopf also pitched in and helped as clinicians in the triage effort.  Dr. Kim Thompson, third year resident was the house officer on duty helping assess the many turtles arriving in truck loads from the beaches.

The least affected turtles based on quick triage evaluation received fluids and were warmed slowly for a quick re-release into warmer waters after being marked for identification and receiving an implanted chip to confirm their identity if found again later.  To date over 500 turtles in this category have made their way safely into the gulfstream or the kinder climates off the coast of Florida thanks to the participation of sea turtle rescue programs in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, as well as the United States Coast Guard, who facilitated the most recent group of releases just this Friday, January 30th.

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Green sea turtles preparing for release

Some animals require more extensive treatment to recover.  After initial triage, veterinary care at rehabiliitation centers and other facilities are nursing these turtles through their challenges which can include pneumonia, severe skin lesions, problems in joints, and general poor condition.  The most serious cases are being managed at the major sea turtle rehabilitation centers, the STAR Center at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island, and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City. Ordinarily the the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center may see 30-40 cold stun cases throughout the winter, but they are currently housing approximately 90 turtles, nearly all of which are recovering from cold stun.

Veterinary nursing teams at the aquariums at Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Fisher the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, the Greensboro Science Center, and SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord are all housing rescued turtles providing them with the necessary care to re-establish their health for future re-release into the sea next spring when water temperatures allow.

Monitoring vital signs on a young loggerhead sea turtle suffering from cold stun

Managing the unprecedented volume of cases this year has required unprecedented levels of communication and coordination, but the round-the-clock dedication of organizations statewide, as well as many volunteers, means that hundreds of turtles now have a second chance at survival.

Marine Mammal Course

Only at NCSU can DVM students spend the week before their winter holiday break studying the health management of marine mammals.  This year the added bonus was warm and sunny December weather. Students from the College of Veterinary medicine in the DVM program gather at the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Decembers of alternate years, for a week-long intensive course in marine mammal medicine.

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The Marine Mammal Selective takes places at CMAST, the unique coastal resource of NCSU

Taught by Professor Craig Harms, Director of EMC Marine Health Programs and Professor Michael Stoskopf, Director of the EMC, the course immerses students in the material they need to understand and respond to marine mammal health needs in the wild and in captivity.  It is not a “gut” course by any means despite the beach ambiance.  There are at least 8 hours of contact teaching daily for 5 solid days, examining everything from anatomy to zoonotic diseases.  Guest lecturers from the NC Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the NC Maritime Museum, and Duke Marine Lab add to the academic rigor and provide important insights into anatomic adaptations, stranding response and history and acoustical challenges for marine mammals in today’s oceans.

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Students work on histopathology diagnosis of real stranding cases.

A favorite for many students are the cetacean necropsies, which allow veterinary students a chance to explore the anatomy and adaptations of several cetaceans in a close, hands-on setting, following the same processes that would be used in the field.  Though the insights of gross pathology examination of dolphins that have stranded on NC beaches solidify the classroom discussions of anatomy and physiology, students also take cases to completion in the histopathology laboratories.  There they identify tissues and read out the lesions for their own assigned stranding cases taken from the CMAST CVM histopathology archives.

Mock stranding exercises on the beach behind CMAST provide students with the opportunity to integrate all of the theory provided in their classroom sessions as they respond to scenarios developed and directed by the faculty and staff to simulate real stranding events. Students develop insight taking the roles of first response and veterinary team members as well as those of news reporters, and the public during the stranding events.

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A student stranding team discusses the next move to care for their stranded “killer whale”.

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Students David Neely playing the role of crowd interface specialist, answers questions posed by Ashley Kirby in the role of an animal rights inclined member of the public.


Movie Night, a selective favorite this year, was held at the Maritime Museum.   Good popcorn and pizza fueled discussion of the philosophical and technical issues in “A Dolphin’s Tale”.  Ultimately, the week of hard work gave students interested in a career in aquatic animal medicine or simply exploring outside the typical veterinary curriculum, a thorough foundation from which to pursue further the study and care of marine mammals, both captive and wild.


John Griffioen responds to stranded mock whale

DVM student John Griffioen responds to a mock stranded pilot whale.


Three Hook Removal Success

An observant fisherman, dedicated sea turtle rehabilitators, and a highly skilled team of veterinarians combined to make it possible for a stranded loggerhead sea turtle near the Surf City fishing pier to have a second chance at life.

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Radiography showing 3 hooks and leader in the throat and thoracic area of the stranded loggerhead sea turtle.

Saturday morning, October 24th, a recreational fisherman found a stranded loggerhead sea turtle off of the Surf City fishing pier.  He knew the turtle needed the help of experts and was familiar with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center (KBSTRRC) on Topsail Island.  The volunteers at the nationally recognized sea turtle rescue facillity admitted the injured turtle for evaluation, identified fishing leader and determined the turtle’s need for more advanced diagnositics.  The fortunate sea turtle was transferred to NCSU’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology for x-rays and possible removal of a lodged fish hook. The radiographs revealed not just one, but three large fishhooks lodged in the turtle’s esophagus.


Drs. Kim Thompson (left) and Brianne Phillips (right) pose proudly with their loggerhead sea turtle patient.

Dr. Craig Harms, Director of the Environmental Medicine Consortium’s Marine Health Programs, along with third year residents Dr. Brienne Phillips, and Dr. Kim Thompson,  prepared the loggerhead for surgery. After the turtle was anesthetized, Dr. Thompson carefully performed her first hook-removal under the experienced supervision of Dr. Harms, and successfully dislodged the first hook from the turtle’s oral cavity. The remaining two hooks were located so deep in the turtle that the could only be removed safely through a surgical approach. Dr. Phillips  was able to successfully find and extract both of the remaining two hooks through the same small incision in the esophagus.  A veteran of non-surgical hook removal, Dr. Phillips was excited to perform her first removals through a surgical esophagostomy.

The turtle is doing extremely well after several weeks of post surgical rest and followup treatment at the Sea Turtle Rescue.  It is expected to make a full recovery. Thanks to the coordination of Environmental Medicine Consortium partners, including the veterinarians of the Marine Health Program at NCSU’s CMAST, and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue, this lucky loggerhead has a second chance at a healthy life in the wild.


Close up of the still anesthetized patient and the 3 hooks removed by NCSU surgeons.