Microchipping sea urchins sounds like something from the future, but it’s being done right here, right now.

Top down view of sea urchin; microchip outlined in red.

Top-down view of sea urchin; microchip outlined in red.

Dr. Justin Rosenberg, veterinary fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, explains that it’s all part of animal healthcare (husbandry). Providing individualized care hinges on being able to tell the animals apart. While researchers have come up with ways to identify individual killer whales, there’s no easy way to tell who’s who when it comes to these prickly animals. Enter the microchip.

Justin uses a needle that is already pre-loaded with a tiny microchip. He inserts the tip in the soft flesh (peristomal membrane) between the skeleton (test) and the mouth. The microchip is embedded into the body cavity without any harm to the sea urchin. Justin says sea urchins will keep the microchips in their bodies for weeks and even months, while sea stars will expel the microchips within a few days.

When he needs to check up on an individual animal, Justin simply scans the sea urchin to see its identification number, which he then uses to pull up its medical record.

large insert scanAlthough microchipping sea urchins isn’t new, Justin says the Aquarium’s animal care team is sharing its findings about sea urchin retention rate (how long it keeps a microchip in its body) to the wider scientific community.

Another view of the sea urchin.

Another view of the sea urchin.

Every animal at the Aquarium, no matter their size or species, gets individual attention. While we are better known for our bigger health-care projects, like the rescue and rehabilitation of Chester, we also perform surgeries on sea otters and fish. Being able to tell these sea urchins apart allows us to make sure that they are also getting the best care possible.

Written by Karen Glanzberg, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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