You asked. Ars answers. Here’s how to give an electric eel an MRI

Enlarge / Veterinarians at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium have pioneered a lot of unusual procedures to diagnosis and treat the animals in their care—including figuring out to give MRIs to electric eels. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Right before Thanksgiving, we reported on how Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium solved the Curious Case of the Missing Chloroquine. The antiparasitic drug is typically added to the water for new animals in quarantine, but it was mysteriously disappearing. The culprit: hungry, hungry microbes. The post included a throwaway line about how the aquarium vets also had the lowdown on how to give an electric eel an MRI.

That bit seemed to resonate with readers, and we received several queries about how, exactly, this feat might be accomplished. You asked. We wanted answers. So we turned to Bill Van Bonn, the clinical veterinarian in charge of the aquarium’s Center for Animal Health and Welfare, which boasts a state-of-the-art animal hospital for monitoring the health of all the animals in the exhibits and treating them as necessary. Dr. Van Bonn and his colleague, Dr. Karisa Tang, were happy to oblige.

Van Bonn describes the veterinary team at the aquarium as “family practitioners” rather than specialists, although they are able to draw on world-class expertise as needed from the greater Chicago area. And since there isn’t a lot of diagnostic and treatment precedent in the literature for many of the animals in their care, they practice comparative medicine by necessity.

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