Megan Strobel’s favourite animals show her roots. As a Florida girl, she grew up watching bottlenose dolphins from shore. As an undergraduate student at University of Florida, she worked on another favourite animal: manatees, Florida state’s marine mammal.
“During the winter, wild manatees come into the springs for warm water. As part of the large US Geological Survey and University of Florida group, we would perform health assessments on the animals that gathered there,” she says. “We collected lots of samples: fecal materials, urine, blood, pieces of skin for genetic testing, weights and morphologies to assess the overall health of the population.”
Manatees may look like gentle giants, but when the tide started to come in and the beached manatees felt the water on their backs, they would get restless and become a little scary, she remembers. But that didn’t deter her from veterinary medicine. The opposite in fact: “I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
In veterinary school, Megan lucked out with an opportunity to work with another favourite animal: dolphins. Her study focused on dolphin’s hearing and the behaviours dolphins demonstrate when they lose their hearing. “We concluded that dolphins who had severe hearing deficits took a longer time to adapt to changes than animals with normal hearing.” Introduced into a new environment, she noted that the hearing-challenged dolphins did not suss out their surroundings as a normal-hearing dolphin would build a picture of the space in their brain through echolocation.
Megan’s first exposure to the Vancouver Aquarium was through an externship with the vet department, which gives fourth year veterinary students the opportunity to learn more about the field of aquarium medicine. “I loved everything,” she says, from the interesting stingray operation she helped perform to the work culture of the Aquarium’s veterinary team.
The great experience led her back for a one-year fellowship at the Aquarium — a prestigious position filled by up-and-coming stars in the competitive world of zoological veterinary medicine. While here, she’s excited to expand her knowledge about any animal beyond the extensively researched dog, cat, cow and horse. “It’s fun and exciting to work with animals that we don’t have all the answers to. Exotic medicine has a ton of research potential because of that.”
One of those projects focuses on harbour seal pups and fecal transplants at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it does involve feeding fish with fecal material inside to healthy seals or performing enemas. The scientific literature on marine mammals and fecal transplants is sparse, so Megan is looking forward to being apart of one of the first big controlled studies on the topic.
The next year holds a lot of unknowns for Megan, as she applies to residencies and figures out where in the world she’ll end up next. But that’s exciting! One thing she knows is that she’s on the hunt for more experience in zoos and aquariums and loves working with exotic animals.