Taking the sting out of darting: Risks, restraint drugs and procedures for the chemical restraint of Southern Hemisphere otariids

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Abstract

The need to manage otariid populations has necessitated the development of a wide range of capture methods. Chemical restraint by remote drug delivery (i.e., darting) is a highly selective method that can be used to facilitate otariid capture in a range of scenarios, when other methods may be impracticable. However, the risks associated with darting otariids are not widely known and guidelines necessary to promote and refine best practice do not exist. We review the risks associated with darting and in light of our findings, develop darting guidelines to help practitioners assess and minimize risks during capture, anesthesia and recovery. Published studies reveal that mortalities associated with darting predominantly result from complications during anesthetic maintenance (e.g., prolonged respiratory depression, apnea, or hyperthermia), rather than from complications during capture or recovery. In addition to monitoring vital signs and proper intervention, the risk of irreversible complications during anesthesia can be reduced by administering drug doses that are sufficient to enable the capture and masking of animals, after which anesthetic depth can be regulated using gas anesthesia.

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