Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sea Turtle Rescue Tree in Beaufort's Festival of Trees

Caroline Hospice in Beaufort, SC hosts a Festival of Trees each year to welcome the holiday season and raise money for the organization. This year, the three turtle nest protection groups from the Beaufort area, Fripp, Hunting and Harbor Islands, sponsored a Sea Turtle Rescue Tree in the festival. How exciting to decorate a Christmas tree with sea turtles!

First on the list of things to do was make turtle ornaments. Sea Turtle Rescue Program staff and volunteers got together at volunteer Patricia DeVito's home one evening for a decoration making "soiree". It was great fun as you can see from the photos below!

The dough ornaments were baked and then the creativity in all of us kicked in!

Although a few of the turtles looked like they were recuperating from missing limbs and boat strikes, most were beautiful! Over 100 sparkling sea turtle ornaments were created with lots of TLC, much like the care we give to our patients.

The tree decorating took place on Sunday, December 5th, while Sea Turtle Rescue Program staff were attending a conference in Florida. Although we hated to miss the culmination of our ornament making efforts, several hospital volunteers offered to take the lead in decorating the tree in Beaufort.

Barb Gobien is showing off one of the photo ornaments of turtles that have been rehabilitated in the Sea Turtle Hospital. Our photographer, Barb Bergwerf made these fantastic ornaments that tell the story of the patients. Not pictured here is the wonderful sea turtle tree skirt that Barb Gobien made. How did we get such talented volunteers?

This little Santa turtle is part of the tree topper - so cute!

The tree is BEAUTIFUL! It went up for auction fully decorated and was won by none other than Janie Lackman, head of the Fripp Island Turtle Team. We hope you enjoy the tree, Janie!

The Sea Turtle Rescue Program Volunteers are pictured with leaders of the Fripp and Hunting Island Turtle Teams. Clockwise from bottom: Fran Nolan (Hunting Island), Barb Gobien, Patricia DeVito, Jackie Huffman, Bev Ballow, and Janie Lackman (Fripp Island)

Not only was this a great way to spread the good word about the wonderful work being done to rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles at the South Carolina Aquarium, but it was great fun for rescue staff and volunteers. We would like to send a huge thank you to Janie, Fran and Buddy from the Beaufort turtle teams and also to our wonderfully talented and dedicated volunteer staff! We are so fortunate to have each one of you working with us!

Merry Christmas from all of us at the South Carolina Aquarium!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turtle Van Gogh creates the perfect holiday gift!

Is there someone on your shopping list this year that has everything? Leave it to the turtles!

The Sea Turtle Rescue Program has a few non-sea turtle residents that can help you find the perfect gift for the animal lover on your list. As a part of environmental enrichment for our diamondback terrapins and eastern box turtles, we have skillfully trained them to paint! Ok, so there’s not much skill or training involved. All we do is let the turtles walk through non-toxic, water based paint and onto a canvas to create a beautiful piece of art. We just have to pick the “right” colors!

Environmental enrichment aims to enhance animal activity and provide mental stimulation, adding interesting and complex activities to the animals’ daily routine. It’s interactive for the turtles, fun for the volunteers, and the results are stunning. On your next visit to the aquarium, stop by the Welcome Desk and they will gladly show you all of our animal art. Each masterpiece comes with a photo of the artist and a Certificate of Authenticity. And while we’re partial to reptiles at the Sea Turtle Rescue Program, there are otter and penguin paintings, too! Come check it out, you will not be disappointed.

Happy Holidays!
Megan Walsh, Sea Turtle Rescue Program Intern

Friday, November 19, 2010

Santee finally rests on the bottom of her tank!

Two months after Santee was admitted by the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program, she is finally resting comfortably on the bottom of her tank! This is a great relief to staff and volunteers after many trips to get the huge loggerhead to the medical lab for a total of 45 radiographs, after tube feeding mineral oil and spirulina on 12 occasions, and only being able to keep her in 2 feet of water because of the severe angle at which she floated. Most of all, we are relieved that we don't have to do surgery to remove the stubborn impaction that plagued Santee for so long.

The impaction caused a gas build-up in Santee's intestinal tract which made her float at a severe angle for two months.

The impaction was caused by several extremely large pieces of horseshoe crab shell bound together with fecal material. Once the impaction moved out of the turtle, we knew it was just a matter of time before the intestinal gas moved through as well. And that happened yesterday!

Santee finally resting comfortably on the bottom of her tank.

Santee is finally on a normal feeding schedule including live hard-shelled prey. She not only chases after live crabs but also after the nets and tubes we use to clean her tank. She is obviously feeling better!

Huge thanks to all who have helped with this turtle and especially Captain Chad Ferris who rescued her. Come visit Santee and the other nine sea turtles that are rehabilitating at the South Carolina's the hottest tour in town!


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Palmer has improved dramatically!

Five months ago, Palmer came to us on death's door. The lethargic loggerhead was skin on bones, severely anemic, had no detectable blood glucose, and the bony carapace was soft around the edges from being metabolized by the turtle for survival. These severely debilitated turtles are tough - over a month into rehabilitation and we still weren't confident "she" would live. But slowly she started making that turn for the better, putting on a small amount of weight and blood parameters climbing, little by little. As you can see by the comparison photos below, she has come a long way now!

For the first two months, Palmer was floating at the surface of her tank. In the photo below, she was cleaned of the barnacles and algae but was still so lethargic that most who saw her like this didn't believe she was alive.

And look at her now...almost 20 pounds heavier, flapping her flippers and getting us wet as we take her out of the tank. That's what we like to see!

We are all thrilled with the progress that Palmer has made. She will continue to improve over the winter months and will hopefully be ready for release next summer. Until then, book your reservation for the South Carolina Aquarium and Sea Turtle Hospital tour and come see Palmer for yourself!

PS - Thanks for the amazing photos, Barb!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A note from Megan, a Sea Turtle Rescue Program Intern

Hello everyone! As you may already know, the Sea Turtle Rescue Program could not run without it's roughly 16 volunteers. Among those volunteers are 2 interns working for college credit and/or experience within their field. I happen to be one of them, and I'd just like to introduce myself and in the future, keep you updated on some of the things that are happening around the Sea Turtle Hospital!

The Sea Turtle Hospital

My name is Megan and I've lived my entire life in Wisconsin, until now. I know, I know, there aren't very many sea turtle strandings in Wisconsin! But upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, with a major in Wildlife Education, I was looking for internships to further my career. Thankfully, I crossed paths with the South Carolina Aquarium and the Sea Turtle Rescue Program on the internet. After going through the application and interview process, and moving my entire life in one tiny little car down to Charleston (including my dog), I'm happy to report that it was love at first sight! I had never experienced sea turtles in close proximity before but on my first day working at the South Carolina Aquarium, I was in awe of them thinking what amazing creatures they are and how they need out help to thrive in the world's oceans.

Treating and wrapping the flipper wound on a 190-pound loggerhead, Dawsey.

Intern duties are varied. Most days include food prep and feeding our turtles a varied diet they need to become healthy again. The Sea Turtle Hospital has provided many firsts for the non-seafood-lover that I am...cutting up raw fish, de-tailing shrimp, and feeding live blue crabs to sea turtles (more on this later in another post!). Interns are also responsible for helping with general cleaning of the tanks and the hospital, helping with public tours that are given 5 days a week (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11:30am and 1pm), never ending laundry, and many other random projects that need to be done. However, if there is a stranded turtle, we may come in on our day off to assist with the initial treatments. On the days that we're actually scheduled to work, our afternoons may be filled with treatments for that turtle. These treatments are time consuming but also very rewarding!

Above: Assisting in surgery to remove a stingray barb from the neck of an endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Above: Giving physical therapy to a green sea turtle, Ripley, that is suffering from partial paralysis due to a boat strike very close to the spinal cord.
That is all for now, but please check back for updates on some of the exciting things happening around the hospital - like the different forms of enrichment for both our sea turtles and our "honorary turtles" that have taken up temporary residence in the hospital.

Megan Walsh
Sea Turtle Rescue Program Intern

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A new Kemp's ridley patient - St. Catherine

A 26-pound Kemp's ridley sea turtle was transported to the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital by the SC Department of Natural Resources at 7am on Saturday morning. The turtle was captured on Friday by a DNR research vessel sampling near St. Catherine's Island, GA. A southern stingray barb punctured the skin and was broken and deeply embedded in the neck/shoulder region.

Above: The turtle presented with a puncture wound between the neck and shoulder.

Above: Sea Turtle Biologist, Christi Hughes, and intern, Megan Walsh, weighed and measured the turtle upon arrival.

Above: The neck and shoulder were very swollen due to the venomous nature of the stingray barb.

Above: Radiographs were taken to determine the exact location of the barb.
Above: With the turtle anesthetized, Dr. Shane Boylan assisted by several members of the Sea Turtle Rescue Team, surgically removed the barb.
Above: Once the barb was removed, the wound was stitched and the turtle was recovered from anesthesia.

St. Catherine recieved an injection of dexamethasone, a steroid primarily used as an anti-inflammatory, as well as fluid therapy on Saturday and Sunday. "She" is also on 2 antibiotics and pain medication. Because of her lethargic state after surgery, she was left in dry dock (out of water) until Monday morning. Hospital staff were pleased when the tank was filled with water and St. Catherine swam very well, without favoring the right flipper at all.

Thanks to the SCDNR SEAMAP crew for taking great care of the turtle until they could reach Charleston, to SCDNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program crew for responding and coordinating the rescue, and to our Sea Turtle Rescue Team that spends countless hours, day and night, holidays and weekends, providing top quality medical care to these animals. Go team!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dawsey's flipper much improved

Dawsey is feeling better and making quite a splash with those that meet her! This is quite a change from the lethargic state in which she was found on September 6th. At the time, the infected flipper wounds were decaying, there was exposed bone and she was likely suffering from septecemia. Once admitted into the Sea Turtle Hopspital, Dawsey was often placed on the gurney (pictured below) or on a large tire for treatment so we could effectively treat wound on the ventral side of the flipper.

In the 45 days that she been recieving medical treatment, the wounds are healing beautifully. Below are dated photographs that allow you to see the changes in this dorsal flipper wound.
Below is a photo of the ventral wound, just to give you an idea of what we are dealing with. There is a deep pocket under the skin that is not visible here.

We are thrilled with the speed at which Dawsey is healing. She is off all medications and is recieving a healthy diet to include live blue crabs. She still has very limited use of the injured flipper so physical therapy has been initiated. Range of motion in the flipper has increased as a result of this therapy and it will continue until we see normal flipper movement.

We'll keep you posted on her progress!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

160-pound sea turtle rescued by local fisherman

September 22nd started as just another day at work for charter fisherman, Chad Ferris. While fishing in the Santee Pass behind Caper's Island, Chad pointed out a loggerhead sea turtle at the surface of the water to his customer from Atlanta. Sea turtles surfacing to breath or bask are a familiar sight for anyone who spends lots of time on the water in the Lowcountry. That's why after watching the large loggerhead trying to dive for 30 minutes with no success, Chad knew she needed help. The two men mustered the strength and agility to lift the 160-pound turtle from the water into the boat (without falling in!) and headed for the Isle of Palms Marina to meet the SC Department of Natural Resources staff and volunteers.

Once the turtle was admitted into the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital, she was given supportive care to include fluid therapy, antibiotic and vitamin injections and diagnostics tests such as a blood analysis, ultrasound and radiographs (x-rays). Thousands of hatching marine leech eggs and some adult leeches were removed from the turtle's skin.

Radiographs revealed an intestinal impaction (pictured below) and gas trapped on the right side of the intestinal tract, which is causing Santee to float at a severe angle. She is being held in very shallow water to keep her floating on a level plane and is receiving regular tubing of mineral oil and lactulose for aid in moving the impaction.

Keep track of Santee's progress on the main hospital webpage and be sure to schedule a visit with her and all the other patients at the South Carolina Aquarium!

Huge thanks to Chad Ferris for recognizing this turtle needed help and responding. It is so important to recognize the part that our community plays in rescuing these threatened and endangered species. You are our eyes out there!

As always, we thank the SC Department of Natural Resources staff and volunteers for respondering to strandings and to the South Carolina Aquarium volunteers and that make this all possible.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

190-pound loggerhead admitted into South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital

We had just returned from 6 hours of nest inventory work on Cape Island Monday when an unusual stranding call came in. Good friends enjoying the Labor Day holiday were boating around Capers Inlet and had come across a large loggerhead sea turtle with an injured flipper stranded on the sandbar at low tide. After a short discussion, we all realized that time was of the essence if we wanted to rescue the wounded loggerhead because the tide was turning. The Smiths, no strangers to sea turtles, said they would stay with the turtle until help arrived.

The Smith Family with the injured 190-pound loggerhead.

Sarah Dawsey has led the USFWS Cape Romain Sea Turtle Project for many years and not only was she working on Labor Day but it was her birthday as well. Sarah, Jerry Tupacz, Arturo Herrera from SCDNR and I put the boat back in the water in response to the stranding call. By the time we made it over to Capers Inlet, the sandbars were diminishing under the rising tide and the turtle (all 190 pounds of her) had swam off. The Smith’s were doing their best to keep an eye on her and when we arrived, were able to point us in the direction of the turtle in last tide pool just before the ocean. It would only have been minutes before the turtle made her way over the last bit of sandbar to freedom, and most likely, death.

Sarah Dawsey, Arturo Herrera, Mark Smith and Jerry Tupacz getting turtle to boat.

After the boat rescue, the turtle was loaded into the SCDNR truck and transported to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital where treatment began. She had two large open wounds on the front left flipper that were terribly infected and was suffering from septicemia. The turtle hardly used the hurt limb. Treatment included 2 antibiotics, subcutaneous fluids, pain medications and wound treatment. Blood was taken for analysis and the loggerhead was left in a shallow pool of water for the night.

Huge thanks goes out to Mark, Shannon, Audrey and Johnny Otis Smith for their willingness to stay with the injured sea turtle for 2 hours until its rescue. Also to Sarah Dawsey and Jerry Tupacz of USFWS for extending their work day (especially on Sarah’s birthday) and reacting so quickly to launch the boat. Lastly, huge thanks to Arturo Herrera from SCDNR for staying for 2 additional hours to help maneuver this huge animal around the Sea Turtle Hospital – I couldn’t have done it without him!

In celebration of Sarah’s many achievements in sea turtle conservation, her unwavering determination to save yet another turtle and simply as a birthday gift, the turtle has been affectionately named Dawsey. You will be able to find future updates for Dawsey on the main hospital webpage.