Urinary chemistry values are another indicator of Hugh and Buffett's general health. Collecting a urine sample in manatees is difficult under the best of circumstances and usually impossible. Catheterization cannot be done on males as their penis cannot be extruded manually, The procedure is possible but uncommon with females, as the urogenital slit is small, making it difficult to use a speculum and otoscope to pass the catheter without heavily sedating or anesthetizing her. Another method used to obtain a urine sample from a manatee is to roll the dry-docked animal on its back and then exert pressure on it's bladder. This procedure is rarely performed as it is extremely difficult and dangerous to maneuver the manatee into the correct body position. While blood analyses can be useful because the values obtained can be compared to a baseline of normal values, the same cannot be said of urine analysis. The difficulties encountered while trying to obtain non-voluntary samples have prevented the accumulation of known baseline parameters. The ability to obtain voluntary urine samples from Hugh and Buffett is enabling us to create a baseline of normal values similar to the one that exists for blood values.
In order to obtain a voluntary urine sample, Hugh or Buffett is given the signal to turn into the ventral-up body position while floating at the surface of the tank. One trainer holds the pectoral flipper, a second trainer provides support from in the water by placing his or her leg underneath the manatee's back, and a third trainer lightly presses in the area of the bladder.
The manatee is rewarded lavishly for urinating with several toots on his whistle and a handful of monkey chow, a manatee delicacy! Over time, both Hugh and Buffett have begun to produce samples more rapidly and with reduced pressure. Eventually, it is hoped that they will be able to produce a sample in response to a signal alone, without the need for any pressure at all.