One organization showcases amazing marine animals. Another cares for creatures great and small throughout Southwest Florida.
The Bailey-Matthew National Shell Museum and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) are now celebrating those synergies and their mutual love of wildlife. These two Island nonprofits are joining forces for a unique and innovative relationship.
CROW’s Medical and Research Director, Dr. Heather Barron, has been providing specialized veterinary care for the sea life at the National Shell Museum since before the aquarium opened.
“There is very little information on veterinary care for invertebrates, let alone care specific for mollusks,” says Sam Ankerson, Executive Director of the National Shell Museum. “Much of the work our Aquarists are doing is uncharted territory. It’s a great opportunity to work with an accomplished veterinarian and non-profit partner on the island who is willing and eager to do the research to help better mollusk husbandry for the future.”
Through the years, Dr. Barron has cared for everything from birds to turtles, raccoons to rabbits. And while many may think CROW cares only for creatures of the land and air that show up at the clinic, Dr. Barron is also certified in aquatic medicine.
“I am honored to be able to provide medical care for the amazing animals at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum,” said Dr. Barron. “The knowledgeable National Shell Museum staff is always a pleasure to work with and is invaluable in the effort to provide a world-class living mollusk museum.”
In 2010, the National Shell Museum was awarded a 15-year accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, which enables the Museum to demonstrate its commitment to excellence and continued institutional improvement as a Natural History Museum to its communities, donors, and sponsoring agencies. Since the opening of the new Beyond Shells: Living Gallery aquariums in 2020, the Museum has also been focused on obtaining accreditation by the American Aquarium & Zoological Association (AZA).
Veterinary care is a very important aspect of AZA accreditation. One of the standards is that a certified aquatic vet must be under contract with the institution and must make at least two visits a month to do health inspections. As part of the CROW-Museum partnership, Dr. Barron visits the Museum every other week to take an in-depth look at each of its marine animals—everything from fish to giant clams to the Giant Pacific Octopus. Before any new animals go on exhibit to the public, the animals go through a quarantine period after an intake exam from Dr. Barron. She inspects their body condition, checks weights, draws blood, examines their fecal matter, and performs any other diagnostics that may be necessary. She also does necropsies on any animal losses.
But the partnership between CROW and the National Shell Museum is more than just providing veterinary care. It also provides enhanced learning opportunities for students in CROW’s externship and internship programs that may be interested in marine biology. “I often take students or vet interns with me to the Museum because each trip offers a wealth of learning opportunities,” says Dr. Barron. “Whether we are doing ultrasound on the Giant Pacific Octopus or drawing a blood sample from a California Sea Hare, every day is an exciting challenge that helps to advance the science of mollusk medicine.”
The collaborative effort between CROW and the National Shell Museum stands as an example of true partners working together to achieve their shared goals for healthy animals and ecosystems.
About the Museum: The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a Natural History Museum, and the only museum in the United States devoted solely to shells and mollusks. Its mission is to use exceptional collections, aquariums, programs, experiences, and science to be the nation’s leading museum in the conservation, preservation, interpretation, and celebration of shells, the mollusks that create them, and their ecosystems. Permanent exhibitions on view include the Great Hall of Shells which displays highlights of the Museum’s collection of some 500,000 shells, as well as the Beyond Shells living gallery of aquariums and over 50 species of marine life. For more information on the Museum, please visit ShellMuseum.org or call (239) 395-2233.
About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW): Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond. Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.