We know, we know: there’s plenty of fish in the sea.
But for one fish at the Vancouver Aquarium, it wasn’t all the fish around that was the problem, it was the lack of an eye.
The yellowtail rockfish at the aquarium had its eye removed due to cataracts and who knew, but having just one eye makes other fish behave like bullies because it senses the one-eyed fish is sick and weak.
So with the help of Dr. Lesanna Lahner of Seattle Aquarium, staff at the Vancouver Aquarium put in a prosthetic eye.
Dr. Lahner, who has been fine-tuning the procedure and has performed the surgery on Seattle aquarium fishes , said the fake eye is for aesthetic reasons but it will improve the fish’s health.
At the Vancouver Aquarium, the procedure was done because after the copper rockfish had an eye removed followed a cataract rupture, staff noticed a change in other fish around it.
The six pound rockfish had begun hiding in nooks and crannies and was avoiding its tank mates. Dr. Martin Haulena said the rockfish was getting bullied.
Fish were picking at it…Its fins were tattered, and it was really getting banged up.”
In the wild, rockfish can live up to a 100 years (there’s been a recorded rockfish living to 147 years old) and the rockfish in the Vancouver facility was expected to live decades longer and staff wanted to improve its quality of life.
During the 20-minute procedure, a technician bathed the anesthetized animal’s gills and skin with water, while Lahner affixed the taxidermy eye to the bone above the eye socket.
On the video, Lahner coached the prosthetic into the socket and coached Haulena on the best way to thread fishing line through bone to hold it in place.
The glass eyes are the kind taxidermists use in trophy trout and salmon mounted for display. Lahner glues two of the flat-backed inserts together to form a sphere.
Eye disease is the most common ailment in captive rockfish, perhaps because they evolved to live under high pressure in deep water, according to Lahner in a Seattle Times article.
In aquarium tanks, some rockfish experience disruptions in their swim bladders – the balloonlike sacs that maintain buoyancy. As a result, air can leak into the eye cavity, possibly triggering problems.
This is the first time this type of surgery has been conducted at the Vancouver Aquarium. With help from Seattle Aquarium’s head vet, Dr. Lesanna Lahner, Haulena affixed the taxidermy eye to the bone above the eye socket by sewing it on with nylon sutures and attaching it with titanium clips. The fish was put under anesthesia for the procedure.
The Aquarium is well known for the care it gives marine mammals, but Haulena says, “Some people don’t realize how much effort we give fish.”