Without surgical intervention, the long-term prognosis was grave. A surgical repair of this nature had never been performed on a shark and provided significant challenges due to shark anatomy. Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone; therefore, it was unclear if the orthopedic devices used to correct spinal fractures in other animals would perform well in a shark.
Mississippi Aquarium veterinarians consulted with numerous veterinarians and human medical professionals and decided to attempt the first-ever spinal surgery on a shark. On September 29, 2020, Aquarium veterinarians and outside colleagues performed spinal surgery on Stella.
Stella was brought to the veterinary hospital for surgery. A rigid plastic PVC pipe was placed into her mouth as a bite block. A soft plastic tube was formed into a “Y” shape and placed into her mouth to pump water with anesthesia over her gills.