Live Otter Radiographs

Radiographs are a noninvasive way for veterinarians to diagnose health issues of stranded sea otters. This section shows digital xrays of sea otters who have suffered from shark bites, boat strike trauma or nasal mites. There are also examples of pregnant females, pups and young otters to demonstrate progression of bone growth!

When sea otters are recovered alive, but sick, radiographs (Xrays) can provide vital information to diagnose the cause of stranding and guide medical care. These images can also guide assessment of reproductive status, age and any recent meals. Also, if a stranded otter has internal tags (such as the microchips that are used to identify your pet dog or cat) or radio transmitters, these can be seen on the radiograph, alerting stranding personnel to scan the animal with a special scanner to determine its identity.

It is not uncommon for oiled sea otters to strand with other health problems, such as trauma that occurs during stranding. Radiographs are a quick, relatively inexpensive diagnostic tool that augments findings from careful physical examination and post-stranding bloodwork, providing a clearer picture of the animal's overall health status.

Many radiograph systems are now digital, providing near-instant results, and eliminating the need to maintain specialized chemicals to develop radiographic films. These digital systems also provide outstanding views of internal structures without harming the animal.

The beautiful digital radiographs of stranded sea otters in this section were contributed by Dr. Mike Murray and the Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Question: Compare these images with those taken of dead sea otters just prior to postmortem examination in the previous sections. Do you see any differences?

(Live sea otter radiographs do not exhibit the postmortem artifacts that are common to dead animals, such as postmortem distension of the gastrointestinal tract with air.)