Thursday, April 28, 2011

New loggerhead stranding from IOP still hanging on

On Monday morning, the South Carolina Aquarium received its second stranding of the 2011 season - a severely debilitated loggerhead with a barnacle load greater than ever seen in the facility. The turtle's lethargic state (it was most likely floating in the ocean for quite some time) is what causes the heavy barnacle load.

The loggerhead named Jammer, washed up near the fishing pier on front beach Isle of Palms, SC, just blocks from the popular Windjammer beach club that s/he is named after. This iconic venue has been a local favorite for decades, operating on the island since 1972...even before sea turtles were put on the endangered species list. SCDNR responded to the live stranding and Island Turtle Team members Mary Pringle and Bev Ballow, pulled the turtle from the surf to the safety of the DNR transport vehicle.Upon arrival at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital, weights and measurements were taken and diagnostic tests were performed. The heart rate of a healthy sea turtle is ~30 beats per minute (bpm) but this turtle's heart rate was only 7 bpm, a condition called bradycardia. The turtle is also severely emaciated and dehydrated. As expected, the turtle had very low blood glucose and blood protein levels but the hematocrit (percentage of red blood cells in the blood) was actually close to normal. Sea turtles in this debilitated state are usually severely anemic with a very low hematocrit level, so although puzzled by the result, hospital staff was thrilled to get it.
Treatments include oxygen, fluid therapy, vitamins, and antibiotic injections. After 24 hours of treatment, the turtles heart rate had risen to 24 bpm and respirations were stronger. The prognosis is guarded on this animal but we are doing all we possibly can to save it!

Huge thanks to all involved in this rescue!

Monday, April 18, 2011

First live stranding of 2011

At 1.8 kg (4 pounds), the juvenile Kemp's ridley admitted Friday evening is the 2nd smallest sea turtle ever treated by the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program. The call about the stranding came from the SCDNR while Veterinarian, Dr. Boylan, and I were attending the International Sea Turtle Conference. Luckily, Aquarium Sea Turtle Biologist, Christi Hughes and hospital intern, Meghan Walsh were on hand to take care of this little guy.

A little turtle with a big name
The turtle is being named after the Folly Beach fishing pier where it was caught: Edwin S. Taylor. It is a big name for a little turtle but Kemp's ridleys are known for their big personalities, so we are pretty sure he will grow into it. Although the fisherman was able to remove the hook before it was swallowed, the turtle is suffering from dehydration and skin lesions. Medical treatments include antibiotics, fluid therapy and external treatment of lesions.

This new stranding brings the Aquarium's sea turtle patient load to 20, the most ever treated at once. But coastal waters are quickly warming and the Sea Turtle Rescue Team is looking forward to releasing many of the rehabilitated patients over the next month or so. Releases are temperature dependant so the dates are not determined yet. Keep checking back to the blog if you are interested in finding out more about these releases.

Thanks to all involved in the rescue of this animal!
Kelly Thorvalson

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Earth Fare donates organic produce to feed endangered green sea turtles!

Since the admission of eight new cold-stunned juvenile green sea turtles last December, we’ve been researching the nutritional value of various produce items in an effort to provide these turtles with foods that best resemble the omnivorous diet they would be consuming at this age in the wild. We began supplementing their daily fish diet with veggies such as romaine lettuce, bell peppers, and kale. The greens happily munched the veggies from newly designed PVC feeders that allowed them to feed off the bottom of their tank in the same way they would graze from a seagrass bed in the wild. Unfortunately, feeding this new produce-based diet to ten turtles on a daily basis was financially straining our resources. We decided to contact John Messinger, Manager at Earth Fare, a local health food supermarket in the West Ashley Windermere Shopping Center known for its selection of local and organic farm fresh fruits and vegetables. John had previously visited our Sea Turtle Hospital and was excited about supporting our efforts to rehabilitate endangered green sea turtles. Earth Fare is now providing us with a weekly donation of produce for our turtles! In addition to staples like romaine lettuce, our greens are now grazing on delicious dandelion greens, cabbage, gold beet leaves, and brussel sprouts on the stalk as seen on the photo below.

On behalf of the South Carolina Aquarium and our ten green sea turtles, we’d like to thank John, Matt Setter and Linda Helms from the produce department, as well as the rest of the Earth Fare crew for all their efforts to help us keep our sea turtles as healthy as possible while undergoing rehabilitation in our Sea Turtle Hospital. Be sure to check Earth Fare out online at and enjoy the video below!

Christi Hughes, Sea Turtle Biologist

Monday, April 4, 2011

Little Debbie being released in Florida on Thursday!

On May 22, 2009, a critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle was found on DeBordieu Beach in Georgetown County, SC. The turtle was very thin and barely hanging on to life. Upon arrival at the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital, “Little Debbie” was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and a broken humerus in her front left flipper. It took over a month of nebulizers, antibiotic injections and supportive care for hospital staff to be confident she would survive, although treatments lasted for much longer.

After twenty-three months and a tremendous amount of medical support and care, Little Debbie is being released back into the ocean on Thursday. Without a doubt, she has left a lasting impression on those that have come in close contact with her. She will likely be remembered most for her spunky attitude, often splashing those that get near her tank, and because she is the most fun to watch chase and catch live blue crabs of any sea turtle ever treated in our program!

Many ask if Little Debbie will be o.k. in the wild after being in captive care for almost 2 years. I can say "yes" with confidence for several reasons: Sea turtles are remarkably instinctive and don't imprint like birds or mammals. They are benefitted by their small brains in this fact. Their instincts drive their behavior and you can't take this instinct away in 2 years. I always like to tell folks that our patients “will bite the hands that feed them.” Little Debbie is spunky, quick, and honestly, could care less about us. We are ok with this because our entire goal is to heal them and to get them back into the ocean to rejoin the wild population, in hopes that they will contribute reproductively to that population.

Little Debbie will be picked up very early Thursday morning to be transported to Cape Canaveral, Florida for release. If you’d like to see her one last time, you can visit on one of the Wednesday Sea Turtle Hospital tours, 11:30am or 1pm.

To all of our donors, Stranded Turtle Adoptive Parents, visitors, partners, and volunteers – thank you so much for all you do to make these successes possible! Kelly Thorvalson