SeaWorld develops brace for whale with scoliosis
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Veterinarians and animal experts from SeaWorld Orlando are trying to help a whale with severe scoliosis by using a custom-fitted brace.
The female pilot whale — nicknamed "300" — was one of several pilot whales that beached themselves in the Florida Keys in May. She was one of two transported to SeaWorld Orlando’s Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility for care.
After she was rescued, the 1,000-pound whale developed scoliosis (also known as curvature of the spine), which keeps her from swimming normally.
SeaWorld called in Dr. Philip Meinhardt, an orthopedic spine surgeon with Orlando-based Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic, about four weeks ago. He worked with Scott Saunders, president of Orlando’s ABC Prosthetics & Orthotics, to create the brace. SeaWorld provided the company aerial photography of the whale, plus her measurements and X-rays.
"The way this brace works, you have to apply tension in certain areas to try to correct this deformity," Meinhardt said Monday.
After the first fitting, adjustments were made to the straps because their silicone coating irritated the whale’s skin, Meinhardt said. Adding foam made the contraption more buoyant and gave the whale more maneuverability.
"She’s extremely docile," said Scott Gearhart, senior staff veterinarian at SeaWorld. "She has a fantastic attitude."
Her final fitting was last week. In a release, SeaWorld said this is the first time this type of custom-fitted orthopedic device has been used on a large whale.
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