On July 3, ECHO Animal Care staff noticed one of the larger Lake Sturgeon on display appeared to be disoriented and occasionally unable to right itself. The fish was pulled off exhibit and relocated to an isolation tank. The decision to pull and treat a fish is never a quick one. The stress of handling, a new unfamiliar environment, and water chemistry changes can sometimes exacerbate a medical condition. In this case, with the behaviors we were seeing, we felt we had no choice.
When we move fish at ECHO, we minimize the stress of handling by using nets, not to net the fish, but to herd them into containers, in this case a horse trough. The fish are kept in water at all times to reduce stress and prevent skin, scale, gill, eye or fin injuries that often occur when fish are netted or otherwise handled and removed from the water.
The isolation tank's location, adjacent to the Lake Sturgeon exhibit filtration system, allowed us to transfer exhibit water to the isolation tank to avoid stressful water chemistry changes.
The treatment, recommended by Tennessee Aquarium Veterinary staff, included a salt bath and a two-week regimen of antibiotics, and had been used in the past to successfully treat another Lake Sturgeon at ECHO.
The salt bath was administered as the Lake Sturgeon was transferred to isolation. The first antibiotic dose was administered via intramuscular injection into the long muscle that runs on either side of the backbone. Subsequent antibiotics were administered orally, which was made possible by previous efforts to train the Lake Sturgeon to hand feeding.
After five doses of antibiotics, when the Lake Sturgeon appeared to be behaving normally, it was returned to the Lake Champlain display. While it appears to be doing well, we will continue to keep a close eye on it. This particular Lake Sturgeon, known affectionately to us as "Moe", is one of ECHO's original animal ambassadors.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank the many ECHO volunteers, interns and staff for their much-appreciated assistance in this transfer. Through their assistance, we were able to quickly, safely and without stressing the fish, move a horse trough containing a four-foot Lake Sturgeon and approximately one hundred fifty to two hundred pounds of water.