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Behavioural responses of juvenile steller sea lions to abdominal surgery: developing an assessment of post-operative pain

By K. A. Walker, M. Horning, J. A. E. Mellish, D. M. Weary

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Marking and tracking of marine mammals is required to gain a better understanding of life history traits; however, some marking procedures used are likely painful. Recent technological advances include intra-abdominally implanted archival telemetry devices for the life-long monitoring of individual animals. No research to date has assessed any aspect of post-operative pain in marine mammals. This study specifically evaluated behavioural responses in nine juvenile Steller sea lions to the abdominal surgery required for insertion of telemetry devices. Behaviours predicted to reflect post-operative pain, including posture and body movements, were assessed during 3-day pre-, 3-day post-, and days 10-12 post-surgery. The proportion of time sea lions spent on land standing increased from 0.00 to 0.07 and then decreased to 0.04, for pre-, post-, and late post-surgery respectively. Similarly, the proportion of land time spent with the back arched increased from 0.01 to 0.57, and then decreased to 0.33. The time sea lions spent on land with pressure on their ventral side while sitting or lying down declined from 1.0 pre-surgery to 0.17 post-surgery, and increased to 0.20 late post-surgery. The time sea lions spent in locomotion on land and in the water decreased from 0.05 in pre-surgery to 0.01 post-surgery, and returned to 0.06 by late post-surgery. These results suggest that behaviours such as back arch, standing, time spent with pressure on the ventral side, and locomotion may be useful in the assessment of pain following abdominal surgery in sea lions. The presence of these behaviours and their persistence for up to 12 days after surgery suggest that more work is required to further develop safe and effective analgesic methods for this procedure.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 120
Issue 3/4
Pages 201-207
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.06.003
Language English
Author Address Animal Welfare Program, University of British Columbia, 2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Analgesia
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Aquacultural and fisheries
  4. Aquatic organisms
  5. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  6. Biological resources
  7. Carnivores
  8. Life experiences
  9. Locomotion
  10. Mammals
  11. Marine animals
  12. Marine mammals
  13. monitoring
  14. Pain
  15. pain relief
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  18. Postoperative Period
  19. Posture
  20. radiotelemetry
  21. sea lions
  22. Seals
  23. surgery
  24. surveillance
  25. telemetry
  26. traits
  1. peer-reviewed