An endoscopic surgery was the next logical step to narrow down the cause until Dr. Ed Jauch and the MUSC MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) team offered their assistance. MRI is a non-invasive (no surgical cutting) technique that allows the visualization of Myrtle’s internal soft tissues. On March 13th, Myrtle visited Drs. Ed Jauch, Paul Morgan, and the MUSC MRI staff. Myrtle quietly sat through nearly 40 minutes of scanning.
Results show that the lungs are the source of the buoyancy and that no surgical exploration for trapped coelomic gas is necessary. The MUSC doctors saved Myrtle from an unproductive surgery. Myrtle, or as I call him Tony Montana due to the scar on his face, is likely buoyant due to some neurological trauma suffered from the head injury that has resulted in hyperinflation of the lungs. Only time and weight belt therapy will tell if Myrtle will relearn to dive. He does dive normally on occasion when motivated by food, but overall, he enjoys staying at the surface. His condition could be compared to a human who suffered a brain injury (i.e., stroke) where the patient may have to relearn certain tasks.
Myrtle is not alone among sea turtles to suffer traumatic injury that results in permanent floatation and much remains unknown about how a boat strike could cause aberrant physiological behavior. The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program is very grateful to MUSC for helping us find the root of the issue and thereby avoiding unnecessary surgery.