Off to the Galapagos: Follow the NC State team as they study sea lions, sharks and stingrays

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Each spring break, Professor Greg Lewbart takes an enthusiastic contingent of third-year NC State College of Veterinary Medicine students to the scientifically renowned archipelago of the Galapagos to conduct hands-on wildlife and ecology research off the coasts of Ecuador.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trip – a popular and important CVM elective course that earns every student invaluable credit and experience in global health – has been canceled for the 2020 and 2021 breaks, leaving dozens of future disappointed vets.

In May 2021, however, pandemic rules eased and Lewbart, a professor of aquatic, wildlife and zoological medicine, was able to take students who were due to travel to Galapagos in 2020. The 2022 third-year students made the travel. as usual during their spring break in March.

But members of the class of 2022, the third years of 2021, were never able to go. Until now.

Lewbart is in the Galapagos again, his 24th trip to the islands since his first in 2013, along with 28 other travelers affiliated with the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, including faculty, staff, current DVM students, recent graduates and a Ph.D. student.

Professor Greg Lewbart, right, arrives in Miami Tuesday evening with part of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine team for May 2022 before heading to Ecuador.

And what a journey it will be. If you follow the college on its social media, you can also follow it.

Lewbart and others will provide photos and stories during the trip, which is expected to last until May 25. Follow the progress on Twitter @NCStateVetMedon Facebook @NCStateVetMed and on Instagram @NCStateVetMed.

Known internationally for his critical work on iguanas, Lewbart says research during this Galapagos trip will focus on sea lions, sharks, whales and stingrays.

“There’s an interesting situation where a lot of sea lions are coughing, these hacking, crazy coughs that sound like they’re going to die,” says Lewbart, who notes that research from previous trips has been highlighted in multiple editions. “They don’t die, but everything that happens doesn’t seem normal.”

Third year students were able to travel to Galápagos during spring break in March 2022.
Third year students were able to travel to Galápagos during spring break in March 2022.

Galapagos National Park rangers, with whom Lewbart works closely, will catch the sea lions, and the North Carolina State team will perform health assessments, drawing blood, rubbing noses and examining fecal samples. North Carolina State faculty members Diane Deresienski, Eleanor Hawkins and Shelly Vaden will lead efforts to examine and sample the sea lions.

“Could it be worms? Lewbart asks. “Could this be normal? There are many dogs in Galapagos. Could these be cross-pathogens? We will examine this. Nothing has been done with canine pathogens in sea lions in 10 years.

Another team is going to “sample” dolphins and whales for genetic markers and heavy metal toxicity. “When I say sampling, I mean, you go out on board, and dolphins and whales come to you — sometimes,” he says.

Park rangers will also catch baby hammerhead sharks and blacktip sharks so the NC State team can perform health assessments, including taking blood samples.

Lewbart often provides health assessments and other veterinary care to the National Park Service, allowing Lewbart students to have hands-on experiences that few other veterinary schools can offer.

The optional webpage promises students the opportunity “to observe and, in some cases, work with the wildlife of the Galápagos Islands and learn about the natural history of the archipelago, the cultural offerings and the logistics of improving animal health in sparsely populated areas”.

During the trips, the NC State team works from the Galapagos Science Center, which was founded in 2011 by San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is the only university research center in the archipelago.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most important destinations in the world for the observation of a rare diversity of plant and animal species. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution originated after his visit to the Galapagos in 1835.

A snapshot of Greg Lewbart during his trip to the Galápagos Islands in March 2022.

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