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Enjoy the latest feature story from The Nucleus
A Science Center First! Eel Skin Graft Procedure
This past fall, our Living Collections team returned a Moray Eel into the Kelp Tank of the California Science Center’s Ecosystems gallery. Normally, this would have been no big deal, as our team moves animals between exhibits and back-of-house areas quite frequently. However, this particular individual is very special.
Her journey began when she was examined and found to have a mass that developed on her head which began to affect her buoyancy in 2017. Our veterinarian at the time performed surgery to remove a majority of the mass. She healed slowly but nicely and was returned to the Kelp Tank. However, the mass grew back, and in 2019 our current veterinarian, Dr. Brittany Stevens, was able to successfully remove more of it.
Unfortunately, her healing process after the second surgery hit repeated obstacles and her outcome began to look bleak. The skin around her incision site from the surgery was not healing properly and not closing the wound as expected. This eel needed multiple treatments to help her body heal itself. After months of battling what seemed like a dismal prognosis, Dr. Stevens had a great idea for a novel medical procedure that would be ground-breaking for future animal health practices if successful.
During the procedure, Dr. Stevens grafted a segment of skin from the eel’s tail onto her incision site on her head to encourage new growth. To our knowledge, this is the first time a skin graft has been successfully performed on a fish! The skin graft allowed her body to heal itself and now she is a flourishing "normal" eel. While she does look a bit different with a sizeable portion of the top of her head missing due to her surgeries, she is not just surviving, but thriving, within the Kelp Tank habitat.
Our hope is that she continues to serve as an ambassador for science learning and innovation, and that her story goes on to help lots of fish that may face similar challenges. We are also very proud of our dedicated Living Collections team that nursed the Moray Eel back to health over many months and made this success story possible!