Salt Lake City seal gets eyesight saving surgery

SALT LAKE CITY -- Cataract surgery is routine, unless the patient happens to be an adult harbor seal.

Nika, a longtime resident at the Hogle Zoo's Rocky Shores exhibit, started developing cataracts months ago, and her keepers noticed she wasn't seeing their hand gestures as well as she usually did.

The Zoo invited two world-class experts in seal surgery to remove the cataracts from the 13-year-old seal's eyes.

Dr. James Bailey, an anesthesiologist, and Dr. Carmen Colitz, a veterinary ophthalmologist, are old hands at this kind of procedure, according to Hogle Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Nancy Carpenter.

"They've done this procedure together many, many times, not only in zoos but in different parks that have pinnipeds," said Carpenter, using the scientific term for the seal family.

The procedure involves some unique medical challenges. Seals respond to threats by diving deep, which involves slowing their heart rate and their breathing. That response can create something similar to an unintentional overdose on downers.

The surgery was successful. Nika will spend three weeks in recovery getting regular eye drops, and then she'll return to her fellow harbor seals in the Rocky Shores exhibit.