Articles tagged as: Jill Heatley

March 31, 2014

Texas A&M-Galveston Scientists Assisting In Oil-Spill Aftermath, Texas A&M Vet Also Involved

Texas A&M-Galveston faculty and students aboard university vessel go out to  the spill area to take samples

Texas A&M-Galveston faculty and students aboard university vessel go out to the spill area to take samples (Photo: Texas A&M University at Galveston)

Texas A&M University at Galveston scientists, along with colleagues from the main Texas A&M campus in College Station, have assisted in coping with the oil spill that temporarily shut down  the Houston Ship Channel and affected a large additional area—and their work in some instances will go on indefinitely.

TAMUG researchers are studying the winds and currents to determine the path for the oil slick as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico.  Other researchers are studying the damage that occurred to sea life and the ecosystem of Galveston Bay, its tributaries and wetlands.

Dr. Antonietta Quigg, a marine biologist and expert on the Galveston Bay ecosystem, is examining the water and sediment samples her team collected.

“It is too early to determine the results, it will take weeks to months,” she noted.  “Once the findings are available, we will compare them to baseline data as we have been studying this bay for many years and we have the background data to determine the effects of this spill.”

Dr. Bernd Würsig, a marine biologist and one of the world’s foremost authorities on marine mammals, was not surprised to see that the area’s dolphins—seen almost daily in the waters off the university’s waterfront—left the oil zone for about four days.

Dolphins, such as the one shown here after the oil spill, are being studied for any after-effects

Dolphins, such as the one shown here after the oil spill, are being studied for any after-effects (Photo: Texas A&M University at Galveston)

“They are very smart and know to stay out of an oil slick; however this kind of oil forms globs that dolphins do not often see and that can pose a danger to them,” said Würsig.  Nevertheless, during one of his trips he noticed a pod socializing and feeding in the area.  “While it may be good that they are returning to the bay and commencing with regular activities, it could be dangerous for some if they ingest oil-tainted food or otherwise become compromised due to the disruption to the bay ecosystem,” Würsig said.

Dr. Tom Litton, a specialist on currents and waves, is working with data based on NASA’s satellite imagery.

“Indications are that the main slick should be moving down the coast and may affect fragile wildlife sanctuaries,” he said.  A team from the state has moved into those same areas to rescue wildlife and clean any oil globs from the beaches.

All agreed that it will take months to determine the true effects of this spill.  Meanwhile, Texas A&M University at Galveston’s scientists are doing their part to help authorities get the bay and the wildlife back to normal.

Rear Admiral Robert Smith, CEO of Texas A&M at Galveston and a vice president of the university, said the Texas A&M branch campus was not directly affected by the oil spill.

He noted that, in addition to those faculty members who are actively engaged in projects related to the oil spill, several other Texas A&M faculty members were contacted by various media for expert comment and by the Coast Guard for the long-range effects and related matters.

A member of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Jill Heatley, was dispatched to the Galveston area to treat oil-soaked animals as part of the emergency response team of the Wildlife Center of Texas.

The spill near the Houston Ship Channel, which has dumped as much as 168,000 gallons of oil, has affected numerous birds, and Wildlife Center officials are expecting more to be brought in needing immediate care.

The situation is especially tricky because thousands of birds are currently passing through the area of the Texas coast as part of their annual northern migration pattern.  Many of the birds eventually land in the area’s thousands of acres of marshes, and cleanup crews are focused on preventing the marshlands from becoming soaked with oil.

Heatley says removing oil from birds can be a tedious process.

“First of all, we often have to go out and capture the bird and bring it back to shore because if the bird is soaked, it is really struggling,” she explained.

“We examine the bird to see if it is injured in any way, and if not, then we begin the cleaning process.  It involves wiping the oil off the bird, then soaking it in a mixture of mild detergents and water.

“Many times, these steps have to be repeated over and over if there is a lot of oil present,” she added.  “That’s why it can take a while for each bird to get fully cleaned.  It can be a time-consuming process but it is absolutely necessary.”

Heatley said she and other veterinarians from across Texas could be at their posts for several days, perhaps longer. “We stay as long as we’re needed,” she noted.

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Media Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662

March 25, 2014

Texas A&M Vet Ready To Care For Oil-Soaked Birds

Texas A&M University’s Jill Heatley, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has been dispatched to the Galveston area to treat oil-soaked animals as part of the emergency response team of the Wildlife Center of Texas.

The recent spill near the Houston Ship Channel that has dumped as much as 168,000 gallons of oil has affected dozens of birds, and Wildlife Center officials are expecting more to be brought in needing immediate care.

The situation is especially tricky because thousands of birds are currently passing through the area of the Texas coast as part of their annual northern migration pattern.  Many of the birds eventually land in the area’s thousands of acres of marshes, and cleanup crews are focused on preventing the marshlands from becoming soaked with oil.

Heatley says removing oil from birds can be a tedious process.

“First of all, we often have to go out and capture the bird and bring it back to shore because if the bird is soaked, it is really struggling,” she explains.

“We examine the bird to see if it is injured in any way, and if not, then we begin the cleaning process.  It involves wiping the oil off the bird, then soaking it in a mixture of mild detergents and water.

“Many times, these steps have to be repeated over and over if there is a lot of oil present,” she adds.  “That’s why it can take a while for each bird to get fully cleaned.  It can be a time-consuming process but it is absolutely necessary.”

Heatley says bird types can be “just about anything you would see at the coast, and this includes pelicans, herons, ducks, cormorants − all kinds of sea birds.

“And it’s very possible we will also see some turtles and other marine life affected by the oil, too.”

Heatley says she and other veterinarians from across Texas could be at their posts for several days, perhaps longer. “We stay as long as we’re needed,” she notes.

The Wildlife Center of Texas is a non-profit organization formed to meet the increasing need for wildlife assistance in the Greater Houston/Upper Gulf Coast.  It receives more than 9,000 injured, ill and orphaned wild animals each year and is one of the largest wildlife care centers in the United States.

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644

January 16, 2013

Year Of the Snake Means Stay Aware, Says Prof

It’s the Chinese Year of the Snake, and with hundreds of millions of snakes around the world, there is a lot of slithering going on out there. Despite their reputation, snakes are not the bad boys of the animal kingdom as they are often portrayed and they are one creature that could use a good PR campaign, says a Texas A&M University expert.

Jill Heatley, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, believes that snakes often get a bad rap. The bottom line about snakes: they just want to be left alone, she says.

“Snakes are probably more afraid of you,” she notes.

“They are almost never aggressive unless provoked. And they do provide a valuable service because they keep the rodent population in check.”

All snakes can bite, but Heatley says there are only four venomous snakes found in the United States – the rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin and the coral snake, but there are numerous different species of each.

Venomous snakes inject their poison through their fangs, but it is estimated that about 50 percent of all snakebites are “dry” bites, meaning no venom was injected, the Texas A&M professor notes.

A snakebite, besides being painful, can be very expensive, often costing the victim between $50,000 to $100,000 in medical bills.

a caduceus

A snake is part of the symbol representing physicians

Snakes kill more people than any other creature, and the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 50,000 people worldwide die from snakebite each year, with almost all of them coming in undeveloped countries where access to medical care is difficult. In the United States, only 10-12 people die each year from snakebite, compared to 100 or more from bee stings.

Some interesting facts about snakes:

  • The word for snake comes from an old English term called snaka, which means to crawl or creep
  • Snakes have no eyelids, which means they can’t blink and they sleep with their eyes open
  • There are about 2,900 species of snakes in the world and more than 350 of them are venomous
  •  A snake’s heart is able to shift and move several inches to allow food to pass through its body
  • By far, more people are killed in India by snakebite than any other country, with between 10,000 to 12,000 people killed annually. A bite from a cobra, found frequently in India, can kill an elephant
  • In ancient Greece, snakes were used for healing by the god of medicine Asclepius, and a snake forms part of the symbol representing medicine used today by doctors and veterinarians with a snake wrapped around Asclepius’ staff
  • Snakes smell with their tongue, which is forked so that a snake can tell which direction the smell is the strongest, even in the dark
  • Some  large snakes have more than 300 ribs
  • A bite from a black mamba, found in several places throughout the world, is so strong that it kills 95 to 100 percent of its victims
  • Australia averages less than 5 snakebite deaths each year, but it is home to 7 of the 10 most deadly snakes in the world.

“We are learning more and more every year about the medical benefits of snake venom,” Heatley adds.

“It is being tested for use against multiple diseases, from cancer to muscle disorders. It is true that some snakes can kill, but it is also true that they are leading us to possible ways to save lives.”

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Jill Heatley at (979) 845-1202

April 16, 2012

Snakebites Can Be Painful And Expensive

Coming to an area near you: snakes, and plenty of them. With unusually warm temperatures and plenty of rainfall this spring, experts say this could be a bumper crop year for snakes. While Texas has never been short on the snake commodities list, people and pets should be aware that they are out and about, says a Texas A&M University expert.

copperheads among leaves

Copperheads can be hard to see

Jill Heatley, associate professor of veterinary medicine, notes she and other veterinarians have already seen several snake-bitten pets brought into the Small Animal Hospital at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

She says a snakebite on a human can be painful – and very expensive.

It is not uncommon for a person bitten by a venomous snake to have medical bills of $50,000 or more because of hospitalization, which can run from one day to several weeks, treatments on damaged tissues, plus antivenin treatments that can run into the thousands of dollars, she adds.

Although snakes are found in most of the world – Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand are some of the few snake-free countries – only four types found in Texas are venomous: the coral snake, copperhead, rattlesnake and cottonmouth (also called water moccasin), and the state is a ground zero, slithering paradise for all of them.

“The thing to remember about snakes is that generally, they want to be left alone. They are probably more afraid of you,” Heatley explains.

“Of the four types of venomous snakes in Texas, the coral, copperhead and rattlesnake are almost never aggressive unless they are provoked. The cottonmouth has been known to be a little on the aggressive side, so you should be a little more wary of it, especially if you are near a creek or lake where they have been frequently seen.”

Heatley says an inquisitive pet can be a snakebite victim.

If bitten, a dog usually suffers the bite on its face or nose, while cats tend to be nicked on their paws, she explains.

“The area that has been bitten will usually begin to swell almost immediately, and that’s a tell-tale sign to look for,” she notes. Venom can spread quickly inside the animal, and kidney failure can result within 12 to 24 hours, which is why a bitten animal needs immediate treatment.

She says it’s important to know that all snakebites are not the same.

a rattlesnake

How can you tell a venomous snake from a harmless one?

“Sometimes an animal or person will get just a small amount of venom from a bite, and sometimes it’s much more,” she adds.

“There is also such a thing as a ‘dry bite’ in which no venom is injected at all. And also, larger snakes tend to have lesser amounts of venom than smaller ones.

“One of the questions we often get is, how can you tell a venomous snake from a harmless one? The answer is that’s difficult because there are numerous types of snakes that are not venomous that look very similar to a venomous one. Look for the triangular- shaped head,” Heatley notes, while adding that coral snakes are brightly colored with rows of yellow, red and black markings. But a coral snake is part of the cobra family, so its venom can be very potent.

For more information about snakes, she recommends such websites as Herps of Texas, Austin Herpetological Society and Texas Parks and Wildlife.

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Jill Heatley at (979) 845-1202

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