Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gumby is growing and thriving

If you haven’t seen Gumby since this summer, you wouldn’t recognize him. This feisty and aggressive loggerhead no longer bears any resemblance to the little sea turtle that floated nearly motionless at the surface of his tank when he was admitted. Months of intensive treatment which included daily calcium supplementation, daily trips outside for sun baths to allow for dermal synthesis of vitamin D, and a strict diet high in calcium and vitamin D, have successfully resolved Gumby’s severe metabolic bone disease.

Upon arrival, Gumby could not feed on his own and had to be tong fed.
Gumby is now very aggressive during feedings.
Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, which has donated multiple diagnostic CT and MRI scans for our sick and injured sea turtles, welcomed Gumby for a CT scan on December 1st. The CT scan allowed us to measure Gumby’s bone density, and we are thrilled to report that it is now within normal range.

Gumby goes for CT scan
3-D CT scan
Although our treatment has strengthened Gumby’s skeletal system, we do have several concerns regarding his overall fitness and potential for release back into the wild. Pathological fractures are always a concern with severe cases of metabolic bone disease, and recent radiographs confirm that Gumby’s femurs (thigh bones) and metacarpals (wrist bones) are bowed. Additionally, Gumby’s pectoral girdle, which consists of the bones that anchor the critically important pectoral swimming muscles, is poorly developed. These abnormalities are likely the result of the poor husbandry and inadequate diet we suspect this little turtle endured before he stranded on a Kiawah beach last June. 

X-ray comparison from admission to November 2011
On a positive note, Gumby has more than doubled in size since last June, and his overall demeanor has improved drastically. He is enjoying a large tank with a sea bass for a tank mate, and we continue our efforts to enrich his life and improve his health. If it’s been a few months since you’ve seen this amazing little loggerhead, come by the Aquarium for a visit! When he’s up to his usual antics, this charismatic little turtle never fails to elicit smiles and laughter.

"Come see me!"
Christi Hughes 
Sea Turtle Biologist

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Greening your Holidays!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average US resident produces approximately 5 pounds of trash per day during the holiday season. Together, this produces over 250 million tons of waste in just a month's time. As we learn more about how the planet negatively responds to our impacts, we should make efforts to reduce our ecological footprint. Let's give a gift to Mother Earth this year by greening our holidays!

E-cards: Join the upcoming trend by sending e-cards instead of actual holiday cards. There are several sites that sell e-cards and even allow you to create your own personalized cards with family photos! Save trees, postage, and the gas it takes to fly your cards from one place to another!

Make your own ornaments: Instead of buying ornaments, make your own! It’s a great way to spend time with your family and create art. Check out the ornaments you can make from your old incandescent light bulbs! Be sure to look up all the great, inexpensive ornament ideas on the web!

Wrapping in style: Instead of using store bought wrapping paper, make wrapping more unique! Use newspaper, children’s art work, sheet music, and old maps for a special twist to your presents. This adds personal touches to each gift, and ensures great family fun. If you have to use gift wrap, select those made from recycled material.

Invest in LED lights: Replace your string lights with LED’s (light emitting diodes). LED’s use 60-80% less energy and can burn up to 100,000 hours (~10 years). These little lights can make a huge difference on energy bills and will last much longer!

Say No to Plastic: While out shopping, bring your canvas and cloth bags. Some stores will actually give a discount if you bring your own! This will help keep plastic bags out of our landfills and waterways. Challenge yourself to buy gifts, foods and candies without all the plastic packaging.

Buy Local: When you are out buying gifts, shop locally and buy from local artists. This will provide a one of kind gift while helping your local economy. Also, while preparing your holiday menu, try to use ingredients you can find at your local farmers market!

The Gift of Giving: Instead of buying traditional gifts, support charities, non-profits or make donations in honor of loved ones. Check out the South Carolina Aquarium's Gift Giving Guide at

Useful links:
Lowcountry Local First -
Charleston Coffee Roasters -

Hope you enjoy greening your holiday this year!

Warmest wishes,
Whitney Daniel and the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Sarkowski Triplets Raise Funds for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program!

For the second year in a row, the Sarkowski girls have given our sea turtle patients a commendable gift. In lieu of presents for their birthday, Gracie, McKae, and Aubrey requested donations to help provide food and medical treatment for the turtles recovering in our hospital. To date, these amazing triplets have raised $510!

The girls’ parents, Staci and Chris, have nurtured a love of nature in their three daughters and are truly leading by example. Chris often takes the triplets kayaking through the salt marsh around Sullivan’s Island, where birds and diamondback terrapins are abundant in the early morning hours. McKae, Aubrey, and Gracie also spent part of their summer helping mom, Staci, patrol the beaches of Isle of Palms in search of sea turtle nests. Staci landed a rare volunteer spot on the Isle of Palms turtle team this year, which gave the triplets the rare opportunity to learn how to identify sea turtle tracks and nests and even witness eggshells and hatchlings being excavated from a nest during an inventory.

During their visit to the hospital, the girls were drawn to our charismatic little loggerhead, Gumby. Although Gumby looks strong and healthy now, he is still recovering from severe metabolic bone disease. Aubrey, Gracie, and McKae were only able to appreciate how unhealthy Gumby was when he was first admitted into our hospital when they viewed his radiographs, which clearly show the deterioration of his skeletal system at admittance and the great improvements he’s made since last June.

I am truly thankful that this wonderful family has chosen our sea turtle hospital as the recipient of their donation. These girls give me great hope that our wild animals and the habitats we all depend upon will continue to be valued in the future.

Thank you, Sarkowski family!
Christi Hughes

Monday, November 7, 2011

Little River update (with video)

You can't miss Little River when you visit the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital - "she" is the one splashing water across the room! This juvenile loggerhead sea turtle was admitted to the hospital in May of 2011 with 3 propeller strikes in her shell. She is extremely lucky to be alive since the fractures cut deeply across the vertebral scutes.

Periodically, we find Little River resting at the bottom of her tank, floating on one side (see photo below). Of greater concern to hospital staff is the limited use of her rear flippers, indicating that she has suffered spinal damage from the strikes. While most sea turtle patients use their rear flippers to aid in moving around their holding pools, Little River’s rear flippers remain motionless when she swims. This is partially why she splashes so much as she swims to the water's surface to take a breath of air. It isn't until someone physically stimulates the rear flippers or shell that we see that she actually CAN move them. Upon touch, she draws her rear flippers into her body and moves them a bit more.

The two videos below allow for comparison of rear flipper movement by Little River and another loggerhead currently being treated at the Sea Turtle Hospital, Hamlin Creek.

We are working with Little River to increase rear flipper movement by providing alternative therapies such as physical therapy, shell stimulation, and electroacupuncture (thanks to Dr. Steve Canion). However, having limited movement in the rear flippers would not keep Little River from eventually being released back into the wild. When Dr. Boylan and hospital staff deem her strong enough to survive on her own, she will be set free. In the meantime, check back here to find video of how Little River is responding to therapies!

Kelly Thorvalson

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MerriElizabeth’s Sea Turtle Birthday Celebration!

Appropriately adorned in a sea turtle dress and barrettes, a very special 2-year-old girl named MerriElizabeth visited the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital on October 9th bearing a wonderful gift for our sea turtle patients. MerriElizabeth had just celebrated her second birthday and in lieu of toys, her family and friends chose to honor her by aiding the sick and injured turtles in our hospital. In all, MerriElizabeth raised more than $550 and is now a proud Stranded Sea Turtle Adoptive Parent!

Clutching Trevor (her stuffed sea turtle), MerriElizabeth explored the hospital and was drawn to the turtles swimming in their tanks. Thanks to the tank windows, she was able to get face-to-face with Barrington, our juvenile loggerhead who underwent brain surgery last July and seemed to be one of her favorites.

Children who visit the hospital are always amazed at the anatomical similarities between sea turtles and humans. Our preserved sea turtle carapace, which clearly shows how the rib bones have been modified in turtles to produce the shell, elicited a huge smile from this bright little birthday girl!

Ever the charmer, MerriElizabeth set aside her fish crackers long enough give me a beautifully executed high-five and show me how to say “thank you” in sign language on her way out to enjoy Charleston’s beautiful fall weather. I’d like to extend a heartfelt “thank you” and flipper hugs to MerriElizabeth and to everyone who helped make her second birthday such a memorable event!

Christi Hughes
Sea Turtle Biologist

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Photos and video of McClellan's release!

A team of Aquarium staff members get McClellan out of the holding tank she has occupied for almost 4 months...

...and carefully load her into the transport bin.

After arriving at the Isle of Palms County Park, McClellan is taken from the transport container by the release team.

Shelley and Ethan Harrison from Caledonia, Ontario in Canada, were in town for this special release. Ethan, now 9 years old, has raised over $6,000 for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program, starting when he was only 4 years old.

The release team clockwise from left to right: Dan Ashworth, one of the USFWS staff on the boat that rescued McClellan; Kevin Handel, Sea Turtle Rescue Program Intern; Bob Crimian, Sea Turtle Rescue Progam Volunteer; Lee Baldonado, South Carolina Aquarium Environmental Services Manager. Thanks guys!

The release team walked McClellan into the water because of her missing front flipper. She stopped for a few moments on a sandbar but once free of that obstacle, headed out to sea.

Enjoy the video of McClellan's release!

Huge thanks to all involved in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of this amazing animal!
Kelly Thorvalson

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amputee loggerhead to be released this Friday

We are excited to be able to release an adult female loggerhead back into the Atlantic Ocean on Friday, October 7, 2011. McClellan suffered a flipper amputation from a crab trap rope entanglement and loss of a portion of her shell from propeller strikes. Despite these traumatic injuries, she has recovered in less than four months! The public is invited to join us at 1pm at the Isle of Palms County Park for this release held in partnership with the SC Department of Natural Resources and the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission. Arrive early to get a good parking space (County Park parking fees apply).

Visit the Sea Turtle Hospital at to learn more about McClellan’s injuries and rehabilitation. We hope to see you Friday!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1st Annual Logtoberfest on Folly Beach!

Come out to Loggerhead's on Folly Beach this Saturday, October 8th for the 1st Annual Logtoberfest from 4PM - 2AM. Enjoy the oyster roast and BBQ for only $20 with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program. No purchase necessary to enjoy live music from Graham Whorley, Jamisun, and Howard Dlugasch on the outside stage and the Dubplates inside at 10.

Hope to see you there!
Kelly Thorvalson

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gumby showing great improvement!

The 1-3 year old loggerhead that stranded on Kiawah in June has broken the heart of many visitors as she floated listlessly, unable to swim or dive. In addition to having anemia, radiographs revealed a severe case of metabolic bone disease. Little Gumby has been on a rigorous health plan that includes a proper diet, daily calcium injections, and an hour long daily dose of sunlight. The photo below shows an extremely lethargic Gumby as s/he receives an injection just after being admitted.

Sunlight is a significant source of vitamin D because the UV rays trigger vitamin D synthesis in the skin. Calcium can only work with the presence of vitamin D, so both are extremely important to bone health and development for all living creatures.

When we take sea turtles out for sun, it is important to maintain a constant water temperature. Hospital staff and interns in the photo below eat lunch outside on a 95 degree day while they consistently monitor Gumby's water temperature, adding chips of ice to cool down when necessary.

After three months of treatment, Gumby is behaving much more like a normal juvenile loggerhead - swimming around the tank, diving for food, sleeping on the bottom, and even biting at staff when we pull him for treatments and sun.

Follow-up radiographs reveal an increasing bone density. Take a close look at the comparison photo below, the flipper bones in particular.

Although Gumby has a long way to go before he will be able to be released into the wild, s/he is making great progress!

Kelly Thorvalson

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Jammin' for Jammer at the Windjammer

Join us at the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms this Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm to enjoy cuisine from eleven amazing restaurants and music from 3 live bands, all for only $15! There will also be a silent auction with many wonderful items including a surf board, art, and a family membership to the South Carolina Aquarium. The funds raised will support the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program, helping to offset some of the costs of rehabilitating Jammer, the loggerhead that stranded near the Windjammer in April of 2011.

Jammer was on death's door when he arrived at the South Carolina Aquarium. To see photos of Jammer's rescue and admission, go to Visit the main hospital webpage at for additional photos, medical treatment and progress.

Huge thanks to the sponsors of the fundraiser and to all those contributing. Come on's going to be a JAM GOOD TIME!

Kelly Thorvalson

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Newest patient from the Edge of America

On Tuesday evening, an endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle stranded on Folly Beach, the local barrier island commonly known as 'the Edge of America.' The small turtle was originally found by Lucinda Gilbert, a resident on the island. Nancy Smith, Bob Neville and Sharon Hally from the Folly Beach Turtle Watch responded to the stranding and contacted Charlotte Hope from the SCDNR, who then transported the turtle to the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital for medical care. It takes a whole slew of folks to save a sea turtle and we are grateful for each person along the way!

"Edge" is thin, lethargic, anemic, and unable to submerge in water. Because of the timing as well as the condition of the turtle, it is presumed that Edge was tossed around in the rough oceanic waters during Hurricane Irene and "his" health declined as a result. The lucky little turtle landed in just the right place for healing, rest and relaxation.

Current therapy includes antibiotics, vitamins and fluids. Although Edge isn't eating yet, we are hoping he will soon be enticed so he can start putting on a little weight. For our invertebrate folks out there, we found a few very interesting barnacles on this turtle's shell that can be seen in the photo below. There is very little information about barnacle species on the internet so we are looking to (and appreciating!) our local barnacle expert from the Citadel, Dr. John Zardus, for species identification. These critters may tell us a little more about where this turtle has been. Most of the barnacles will eventually die and be removed from the shell (and nose) but for the time being, they are not causing the turtle problems.

We would like to send a huge THANK YOU to all involved in rescuing sick and injured sea turtles from our waters and beaches. If you find a sea turtle in need of assistance, be sure to call the SCDNR stranded turtle hotline at 1-800-922-5431.

Kelly Thorvalson

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SCUTE volunteers donate medical equipment

It all started with a young boy named Timmy Mitten from Virginia. Timmy's family was on vacation in Garden City and one evening, Timmy helped the SCUTE (South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts) nest protection volunteers by keeping a close eye on the rising tide. He wanted to be sure it didn't interfere with the hatchlings making their way out of the nest. A little later, Timmy gave the team $1 to help sea turtles. He could have spent his money on candy or gum, or maybe a video game in the arcade, but all that was on Timmy's mind was helping the turtles. And that he did.

That dollar donation prompted the Garden City turtle team to find out if there were any medical needs in the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital with which they could fund. That dollar turned into about $1,500 that has provided a new gurney (stretcher) and IV poles for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program!

Sue Harbemeyer spearheaded the time-consuming project to find a gurney that would accommodate sea turtles large and small, as they are transported from the basement hospital facility to the 1st floor medical clinic for x-rays and surgeries. The IV poles were ordered by Terry Senior and used during surgery only days after their arrival.

The photo below is of the gurney that we have used for approximately 4 years. Ripped and rusted, it has certainly seen it's better days!

And the new one from the SCUTE team...they sent an extra mattress, too!

The first use of the gurney was to force feed Yawkey (and it was successful).

We would like to extend a huge thanks to Sue and Hans Harbermeyer, Terry Senior, Linda and Dan Williams, Mari Armstrong, Franc Coker and of course, Timmy Mitten, for the much needed contributions to the Sea Turtle Rescue Program!

Kelly Thorvalson

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Couple gets engaged in the Sea Turtle Hospital!

With Beaufort the loggerhead peeking through the tank window, Nick Andrews dropped to one knee, opened a ring box, and asked Justine Francis to marry him. Justine was obviously very surprised and excitedly said "yes!"

Vacationing from Scranton, PA, the couple had planned to spend the afternoon at the South Carolina Aquarium and booked a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Hospital in advance. Nick knew that this would be the perfect setting for his proposal because of Justine's deep love for sea turtles.

To Nick and Justine-
Thank you for sharing this special moment with hospital staff and guests! We wish you a lifetime of health and happiness. Hopefully Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital will always hold a special place in your hearts.

Warmest regards,
Kelly Thorvalson

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sea Turtle Release Friday, August 19

Pack your swimsuits, get the kids from school, and head out to the Isle of Palms to watch 2 loggerheads and 1 Kemp's ridley be released back into the ocean after recuperating from various illnesses at the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital. In partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, Beaufort, Capers and Laurel will be released at the Isle of Palms County Park on Friday, August 19th at 4:30 pm. County Park parking fees will apply.

This feisty 100-pound loggerhead was found floating in Battery Creek in Beaufort, SC on May 30, 2011. X-rays revealed intestinal air, possibly caused by an impaction. Beaufort’s treatment included antibiotics, fluids, and s/he received regular tube feeding of mineral oil, as well as weekly enemas. Beaufort finally passed the air trapped in her intestines and the staff is extremely happy that she can go home (so she'll quit trying to bite us when we work on her)!

The photo below is a nice comparison of Beaufort floating with her posterior (rear) end up and her present state of being neutrally buoyant.

This 94-pound loggerhead was picked up by SCDNR on their loggerhead trawl survey on May 31, 2011. Once on the boat, it was noted that Capers had a strange loss of keratin (protective layer) on the soft tissue and the bloodwork revealed anemia. She was transferred to the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital for medical treatment which included two types of antibiotics, fluid therapy, topical skin treatment and vitamins. With her ailments resolved and her activity level finally that of a healthy, wild loggerhead, Capers is ready to go home.

This 7-pound Kemp's ridley was caught by a recreational fisherman on June 21, 2011 in Laurel Bay in Beaufort, SC. The circle hook in her esophagus required surgical removal by making a small incision in her neck and esophagus. This was done with the turtle fully anesthetized and in just over a week, Laurel was able to eat. The wound has now completely healed and Laurel is medically cleared for release.

To see the full medical updates including photos of these turtles, be sure to go to the Sea Turtle Hospital webpage at

Huge thanks to all involved in the rescue and successful rehabilitation of these sea turtles. We hope you will be able to come out to witness these amazing animals return to their natural habitat!

Kelly Thorvalson