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Shark surgery

David Gregory | 14:34 UK time, Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Florence, the nurse shark. Geddit?This is Florence the Nurse shark, she's a new arrival at Birmingham Sealife Centre and here we see her just about to be moved the last few metres to her new home. But she nearly didn't make it at all.

Florence was one of four nurse sharks that arrived in Weymouth from Florida a few months ago. But while Florence's friends prospered and were soon ready to journey to aquariums across the country Florence wasn't so lucky. She was off her food, listless and pale.

X-rayApparently when a shark is sick the symptoms are just what you might expect in humans.

The experts tried steroid injections to stimulate Florence's appetite and when that didn't work they gave her an ultrasound scan. And this is what they found. A fish hook buried deep in the roof of her mouth. It's that bright white object on the right of the image. It's likely a fisherman caught Florence and then threw her back when he realised he'd got more than he bargained for.Shark surgery

So the team decided to remove the hook. Since this would be the first operation on a shark out of water that meant cobbling together the gear needed to perform the surgery successfully. The team anaesthetised Florence in her tank and then lifted her onto a table. Those yellow pipes were used to continually pump water over her gills so she could breathe. Water was gently poured over her during the operation to stop her drying out.

Water pipesThe hook was buried right inside the top of her mouth and there was little sign of it externally. But a tiny scar guided the vet to the spot and making a small incision eventually allowed the hook to be removed and then the wound stitched up.

The hook was very rusty which explained why Florence was so ill. But by removing the source of infection and starting her on antibiotics Florence got her appetite back and she quickly began to put on weight. And today she is fully fit. The hook removed from Florence
Managing to soak both those who looked after her and my cameraman on her arrival in Birmingham splashing around in her travel tank.

Nurse sharks enjoy life on the bottom of the sea and they can pulse water across their gills to breathe. Other sharks can't do this so have to keep water moving over their gills by constantly swimming. Florence on the other hand can enjoy sitting about on the sand. So if you visit her in her new home that's where you'll find her. Enjoying a long life, thanks to the creative efforts of a group of people to remove a rusty hook from her mouth. A hook that would certainly have killed her in the wild.

And why call a nurse shark Florence? A tribute to another nurse of course.

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