SeaWorld teams up with surgeon to create spine brace for whale

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Treating a pilot whale with scoliosis is no small feat. But that’s what a Florida orthopedic spine surgeon, a prosthetics expert and SeaWorld Orlando have managed to do.

They created a custom-fitted adjustable brace for a rescued pilot whale with severe curvature of the spine, and they’re using it to treat the animal at the theme park. The brace is the first use of such a custom orthopedic aid on a large whale, SeaWorld says.

The female pilot whale, nicknamed “300,” was one of two whales transported to SeaWorld Orlando’s rehabilitation facility after several pilot whales beached themselves in the Florida Keys in May. During her post-rescue treatment, she developed severe scoliosis, which impedes her ability to swim normally.

Vets at the facility don’t know the cause of the curvature, SeaWorld reports, but obviously, treatment was necessary.

The brace can be adjusted as the whale progresses with her three-times-a-day physical therapy. The goal is to straighten the whale’s spine and restore use of her tail. Time will tell whether the brace and therapy are successful. If not, surgery might be needed.


But there’s hope. Senior staff veterinarian Scott Gearhart told the Orlando Sentinel: ‘She’s extremely docile.... She has a fantastic attitude.’

It’s not the first time unorthodox treatments have been used in the care of large sea mammals. SeaWorld has made wet suits for manatees, and used ultrasound and performed C-sections on other mammals in its care, according to Jon Peterson of SeaWorld’s animal rescue team.

-- Michelle Maltais