Are our sheep seasick?

UQ Gatton student Eduardo Santurtun is studying sea sickness in sheep.
UQ Gatton student Eduardo Santurtun is studying sea sickness in sheep. David Nielsen

COULD sea sickness be killing our sheep?

Eduardo Santurtun, a University of Queensland Gatton PhD student, is conducting world first research to discover just this.

Mortality of sheep in Australian live export occurs mainly in sea transport, where many sheep simply stop eating.

"When transporting livestock there are several stresses involved in transporting the animal from the farm to the consumer," Mr Santurtun said.

"No research has been done into the effects of 'ship-motions' and this project will provide a more thorough understanding of the impact these motions have on sheep," he said.

Mr Santurtun said he had been told by ship workers more sheep died in rough conditions than in calm waters.

The three most important are roll (side to side), pitch (end to end) and heave (up and down).

Mr Santurtun said while it seemed sheep suffer motion sickness in a similar way to humans his research aims to prove it.

The sheep travel from Australia to the Middle East, and beyond, for voyages which take 14-20 days, with a significant mortality rate of about 1%.

"In 2010, 23,000 sheep died, with about one half of these due to failure to eat, which may have been partly due to the motions of the ship," Mr Santurtun said.

"As part of the experiment we use a modified flight simulator to create the roll and pitch motion of the ship and a forklift to create the heave."

While this is happening the sheep's food consumption and balance is monitored.

The final experiment will look at combining all three of the motions.

"This is a more realistic scenario but it is important to understand each of the motions in isolation first so that we can suggest improvements to the transport arrangements," he said.

Mr Santurtun is using a platform similar to that used in a flight simulator to replicate roll, pitch and heave. This research is being supported by the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics.

Feeling queasy

Seasickness is caused by the body, inner ear, and eyes sending differing signals to the brain.

The result is a feeling of queasiness that can shut down the digestion process.

Topics:  gatton live export university of queensland

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