SALT LAKE CITY — The average passer-by at Utah's Hogle Zoo likely wouldn't notice whether a sea star was healthy or sick. Primary keeper in the Rocky Shores area, Maggie McGrath, did.
"It's a lot different than a dog or cat that's limping, or just acts really lethargic," McGrath explained. "When I pulled him out of the tank, he was just very bloated, very swollen. Not looking good."
The sea star, only known as number 031, did not respond to antibiotic treatments. Veterinarians at the zoo started turning to outside help.
"It is challenging, but that's part of the wonders of working at the zoo," associate veterinarian Erika Crook said. "But now we're working with a marine invertebrate, and it's a class of animals that not a lot of people know about."
Crook has been working with marine biologists at an aquarium in Seattle, but what may prove to be an even bigger help comes from the radiology department at University of Utah Healthcare.
"We chose to do an MRI because we can look at the soft tissues of the animal better than with a CT scan," Crook explained.
Resting in a casserole dish-sized bath of ice water, 031 was loaded into an MRI, where scans were taken for about an hour.
"We will have the images and compare them to other sea star MRIs and hopefully try to determine what is going on with ours," Crook said.
She says there is no guarantee the images will bring answers, but she holds out hope that Sea Star 031 will be able to get better.
"That would be the goal," Crook said. "That we could get it healthy again so that the public could enjoy it."
There is however no guarantee that 031 would return to its display tank if it gets better. Keepers say before it became ill, it did not play well with others. It kept eating the sea snails needed to clear algae from the tank.