|A seal swims in its enclosure in London on Tuesday May 22, 2012. (CRAIG GLOVER/ QMI AGENCY)
LONDON, Ont. - Zoo officials on both sides of the border may never know why three of four seals died en route to their new home, an animal expert says.
"(The cause of death) may remain a mystery," said Dr. Dale Smith, a professor of zoo-animal medicine and pathology in the department of pathobiology at Guelph University's Ontario Veterinary College.
Nunavut, Atlantis, Cri Cri and Peanut left Storybook Gardens on Friday morning on what was supposed to be a 12- to 14-hour trip to St. Louis Zoo. The theme park has been seeking new homes for its exotic animals since it decided to move away from a zoo format.
By late afternoon Friday, Nunavut, Atlantis and Cri Cri became sick. Nunavut and Atlantis died at a zoo in Fort Wayne, Ind., where they were taken for care.
Cri Cri was being treated at the Indianapolis Zoo for symptoms of severe exertional myopathy, a condition that can be brought on by stress.
"It's not really a disease per se," said Dr. George Kollias, a professor of zoology at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "It's kind of a cascade of events that occur once the initial insult happens.
"It's not common in marine mammals at all."
The fourth seal, Peanut, arrived in St. Louis safely.
"Cri Cri received extraordinary round-the-clock treatment from the veterinary and animal-care staff of the Indianapolis Zoo after she was taken to Indianapolis for medical care on (Saturday)," the St. Louis Zoo said in a statement. Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine will handle Cri Cri's necropsy.
Kollias said exertional myopathy can be treated, but it must be recognized and addressed within a few hours. "Once the syndrome develops, it's pretty rare to pull the animal out," Smith said.
The seals were transported in an air-conditioned trailer and misted regularly. Smith said an animal who's hot tends to deteriorate more quickly.
"On the surface, I can't see any reason for this to happen," she said. "It sounds very much like they did everything right."
But since three of the four animals died, she said, "I think it suggests that something happened that affected them all."
Before shipping, some zoo animals are trained to get in and out of crates. "Crate training decreases stress and anxiety," Smith said.
The Storybook seals were transported two to a container in mother-daughter pairs. Only Peanut made it to her destination alive.