The Aquarium Veterinarian 9

Sharks, fish, reptiles, birds, river otters. 
The doctor knows just what to do.

Gabby has been getting a lot of attention lately. If you go and visit her, you might notice a bit of pink on the outer edge of her shell. You see, Gabby is a loggerhead sea turtle who lives in the 280,000 gallon shark tank at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. She is swimming and eating like normal, but her caretakers are keeping a watchful eye on her. The aquarists can never be too careful when it comes to sick sea creatures in a confined space. Fortunately, the caretakers at the aquarium are conscientious stewards who know their stuff and one of those caretakers is Dr. Martin Orr, a man who probably has one of the coolest jobs in all of Utah.

Orr is the official veterinarian for the Loveland Aquarium located in a prominent spot off of the I-15 in Draper, Utah. He has been a veterinarian for the past 25 years, specializing in exotic animals, and owns Creekside Animal Hospital on 12720 Pony Express Drive, about one mile down the road from the aquarium.  Every Thursday morning, you will find Dr. Orr making the rounds at the beautiful and spacious new aquarium, a must-see attraction for any visitor or resident.

This Thursday, Dr. Orr has come to check on the animals from each area. Dr. Orr does not check every single animal. He consults with the animal coordinators and they show him which animals need extra attention. Gabby is at the top of the list.

“The loggerhead turtle has an infection, some kind of shell rot. She is moving around well and eating also. She is looking a little bit better. There is still some redness on the ridges, which should be a uniform brown color. I’m not sure what it is. She had the same thing a few years ago and responded well to medication, but not quite as well this time. A few weeks ago I did a blood draw and the results were pretty unremarkable. That is why we are not worried about it.”

“The challenge of caging animals is that you are also caging diseases. Animals are exposed to more things because it is a closed environment. There is not ocean water movement. That is why the aquarists want to know what it is, to make sure it is not something the other animals can catch. That is the overall challenge of keeping animals in captivity, is you’re containing diseases also, which could ruin an entire tank.”

Gabby is a beautiful and graceful creature that smoothly glides around the large tank in a sort of unchoreographed water ballet. The tank is the most intricate of all at the aquarium and it takes many divers who are specially trained in zoology to care for it. In addition to the loggerhead, there is also a green sea turtle, a myriad variety of sharks like whitetip reef, blacktip reef, sandbar, and zebra sharks, a guitarfish, unicorn fish, flagtail, and even a green moray eel, just to name a few. The aquarium is constantly adding new fish to the exhibit and the display becomes more intricate with each passing month.

For a long time, Dr. Martin Orr only treated exotic animals (everything but dogs or cats) at his office in Midvale many years ago, one of the only veterinarians in the country to do that. The most common exotics he sees are ferrets, rabbits, birds, and pot belly pigs. But he missed seeing the dogs and cats and when he relocated to Draper he started treating domestic animals again.

“When Ringling Brothers comes to town, I am their veterinarian. I have worked on some of their animals, like the elephants and tigers. Some come that aren’t well that I am able to help. But the most interesting animals right now are at the aquarium. I mean, how often do I get to see a blacktip shark? Or a loggerhead turtle?”

From the viewing area, the shark tank is a peaceful, darkened room. Visitors can sit and observe the undulation of fish species gliding effortlessly through each large window pane, an aquatic symphony of tails, gills, and refracting light. A fluctuation of excited children with their oohs and aahs and pensive observers permeate the atmosphere of the room as it alternates betweens chaotic school groups to a church-like atmosphere. Whatever the audience is that is standing in front of the glass, the graceful sea creatures are a mesmerizing sight.

Unlike sharks that enjoy a concierge aquarium lifestyle, it is a different scenario with river otters. Keepers will hide food in many different places to make feeding time a challenge. They put the food high up in the tree, behind rocks, in the water and inside round balls that are difficult to open. Feeding times differ daily. They do this to keep the otters active and interested or they would just lie around all day and do nothing.

A river otter is not anything like a shark or a bird or a salamander. Yet, Dr. Orr has to know how to care for every creature at the aquarium, thousands of different animals with different biological compositions. With the aid of modern technology, this is accomplished much easier than before.

“In the old days, we would go to look it up at the library. There is a website, a veterinarian information network [where] professionals provide information and descriptions of what to do for different species.” 
A frequent visitor, Dr. Orr used the site because he wanted to know what sedation to use with the river otter and how to draw blood.  “A whole bunch of peers said this, this, this and I thought that was really hard, but one guy chimed in and said, you know what, I’ve just done this and it worked perfectly. Then all the bigwigs said, whoa! What a great idea, I should try that. So what did I do? I tried it and it worked perfect. I had to study up on them before I came in, and sure enough it worked perfect. They are similar to a dog as far as dosages and medications and stuff and that is what we based it on to a certain degree.”

It is important for Dr. Orr to come prepared when he does his rounds because the variety of fish and animal species at the aquarium is extensive. Besides the shark tank and river otters, there are reptiles, birds, gentoo penguins, poison tree frogs, and many more.

When you walk into the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, the impressive lobby sets the stage for an odyssey of learning, with portals to South America, the ocean, Antarctica, and local Utah fauna. It is hands-on and the friendly and informed staff make it a place of learning, a valuable addition to the community. With all of these creatures right here in Draper, Dr. Martin Orr really does have a pretty cool job.