Aquarium of Niagara seal Medusa undergoes cataract surgery

Dec 13, 2017

When rescued as a pup, the gray seal named Medusa was completely blind. The two-year-old Aquarium of Niagara resident recently underwent successful cataract removal surgery. She'll remain blind for life, but aquarium officials say there are other reasons why the cataract surgery was still important.

When she was rescued off the coast of Long Island early last year, Medusa was only three months old. She was fully blind.

Medusa relaxes at the Aquarium of Niagara. Although she remains blind due to degenerated retinas, aquarium officials say her cataract removal surgery will prevent future health complications.
Credit courtesy Aquarium of Niagara

Last week, the gray seal underwent successful cataract removal surgery, performed by Dr. Carmen Colitz, a Florida-based veterinarian ophthalmologist. It was discovered during the procedure that Medusa's retinas were almost entirely degenerated. 

In spite of the successful removal of her cataracts, Medusa will remain blind. But Gary Siddall, executive director of the Aquarium of Niagara, told WBFO there were other long-term health concerns that made the surgery necessary. 

"The original intent for the surgery was to help reduce the risk for future complications," he said. "Things like reducing the intraocular pressure, reducing her risk of glaucoma and avoiding complications like lens luxation."

The successful surgery, Siddall said, will better ensure Medusa lives a more comfortable life. She remains a resident who has proven useful in educating Aquarium staff, who are working with her by utilizing Medusa's other senses. 

"We use her hearing as a primary way of communicating with her," he said. "We also use her sense of touch a lot. For a seal, they don't have fingers but they do have whiskers on the side of their face. Those whiskers are very sensitive and can move independently and, in a lot of ways, they behave like our fingers do."

Medusa was also utilized in recent research of nutrition and food sources, playing the role as a member of the study's control group.

Dr. Carmen Colitz and other personnel perform cataract removal surgery on Medusa.
Credit courtesy Aquarium of Niagara

She is not the first Aquarium of Niagara resident to undergo cataract removal surgery. Sandy, a harbor seal who is now 37 years old, underwent the procedure in 1987 and became the first seal in history to undergo such a surgery. She, along with 27-year-old gray seal Della, join Medusa at the aquarium.

Della, coincidentally, is also completely blind. 

"It's really common for seals and sea lions under human care to have visual impairment," Siddall said. "Certainly, things like cataracts are very common but it's very rare to see animals as young as Medusa developing those cataracts."