Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hypothermic Sea Turtles Receive Private Flight to the South Carolina Aquarium

Private pilots in the Charleston area stepped up once again to help transfer endangered sea turtles in need of medical care. On December 5th, Gary Davis, pilot and owner of Davis Air, Inc. and pilot Neal McCann, transported 10 endangered sea turtles from Boston, MA to Charleston, SC to help lighten the load of the New England Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program. The juvenile sea turtles, 8 Kemp's ridleys and 2 greens, were among over 150 that stranded along Cape Cod Bay in the largest cold stunning event in New England's history. This flight makes 3 times in the recent years that Charleston private pilots have helped transfer endangered sea turtles.

Gary Davis, Kelly Thorvalson, and Neal McCann in front of the Beechcraft King Air turboprop just before takeoff on Tuesday afternoon. 
At Norwood Airport just outside of Boston, MA, sea turtles were loaded onto the aircraft by New England Aquarium rescue staff Adam and Casey and South Carolina Aquarium staff Kelly Thorvalson. Pilots Gary and Neal packed the boxes safely into the plane.
In the air at approximately 21,000 feet, it was an extremely comfortable ride for the turtles. 

After the four hour flight from Boston to Charleston, the sea turtles were loaded into the Aquarium's husbandry van and transported to the Sea Turtle Hospital where they received physical examinations, blood work, radiographs, antibiotic injections, and fluid therapy to combat dehydration. Space is slim at the hospital and the turtles are small so they are sharing tanks. Dividers were installed to separate the solitary creatures so that when they start feeling feisty again, the biting that would normally occur is kept at bay.

Offloading the turtles for the transfer to the Aquarium.
Once at the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital, turtles were sorted by number and needs.

Physical examinations on all patients: Although fluids were administered pre-flight, the turtles were mildy dehydrated. Many are thin and have lesions on their plastrons. 
Medical diagnostics and treatments included blood work, x-rays, fluids, and antibiotic injections.
Four of the ten juvenile sea turtles in their new home away from home.
Because cold-stunning of sea turtles rarely occurs off the SC coast, the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program serves as a back-up facility for those areas that become inundated with the hypothermic reptiles. So far, 36 patients have been admitted to the Aquarium's hospital this year, a new record for the program. Currently, 18 sea turtles are receiving care.

Patient profiles and names are pictured here. The turtles will eventually be posted to the main hospital page so be sure to check back to learn about specific ailments and treatments.

A big thank you to pilots Gary Davis and Neal McCann of Davis Air, Inc. for donating the flight to help these animals! We are extremely grateful for their generous donation. Also thanks to Dr. Jose Biascoechea for his assistance with admission of these turtles. Anyone that is interested in visiting the Sea Turtle Hospital to see the patients can reserve a space on one of the regularly scheduled behind-the-scenes tours M, W, F, Sat and Sun at 11:30am and 1pm by calling the Aquarium's reservation desk at 843-720-1990.

All our best to the New England Aquarium team for their tireless efforts to help the sea turtles stranding on their shores. Visit their Marine Animal Rescue blog to learn more.

Follow these media links to see more on the turtle transfer:
Post and Courier 
News 2
Also, keep up with all the latest news from the South Carolina Aquarium on Facebook!

Happy Holidays!
Kelly Thorvalson
Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Third Annual Donation from the Sarkowski Triplets!

Three 9-year-old girls have become true benefactors of the sick and injured sea turtles recuperating in our Sea Turtle Hospital. For the third year in a row, McKae, Gracie, and Aubrey have encouraged their friends and family members to contribute to sea turtle conservation in South Carolina by donating funds to our non-profit Sea Turtle Hospital. 

2010 Donation

2011 Donation

This year, the triplets decided to reach out to their local community with phenomenal results. The girls discussed the plight of sick and injured sea turtles with local individuals and businesses, including Pitt Street Pharmacy, Royall Hardware, and the law firm J. Lynn McCants, LLC, and managed to raise an astounding $1,100!

2012 Donation
As Thanksgiving approaches and we begin to reflect on what we are thankful for in our daily lives, please let the children in your life know how much you appreciate them. It is truly astounding how much children can achieve when they have adults in their lives who believe in them. The staff, volunteers, and turtles in our Sea Turtle Hospital are very thankful for Aubrey, McKae, and Gracie!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Three Sea Turtles of Three Species Released by Boat Bringing the South Carolina Aquarium to 99 Sea Turtle Releases!

On October 19, three sea turtles were released by boat just off SC's coast. Charlie and Merigo, a loggerhead and Kemp's ridley, were rehabilitated at the South Carolina Aquarium (SCA) and the third, a juvenile green sea turtle, was rehabilitated at the National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAIB). Releasing three species of sea turtles is very exciting and to make it even more exciting, the NAIB green was fitted with a satellite transmitter to track it's migration.

From Aquarium to Dock
The National Aquarium and South Carolina Aquarium staff met at 5:45am Friday morning to load the sea turtles for release. What an exhilarating way to start the day!

Olympian swims in his/her overnight home in the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital after being transported from the National Aquarium in Baltimore on Thursday.
Charlie makes a last big splash Friday morning before he gets loaded up to head home.
Gumby watches as wet Stephan and Chuck load Charlie into the transport container.

Merigo's transport container is much smaller than Charlie's. A little spray down and s/he was ready to go!

Olympian looks out from his/her transport container.
The turtles get pulled from the husbandry van and carried down the dock to the boat.
The small turtles are much easier to transport!
The Boat Ride
Special thanks to the boat owner John Hill and his crew, David and Charlie, for helping us release the turtles by boat. This was the fourth sea turtle release from the El Tejano in the last few years and we are grateful for the support! We also thank Joe and Jane Sylvan, Elena Terry, and the National Aquarium crew for being part of the release and making it that much more meaningful. Below are a few photos of the boat ride to release the turtles at 4KI, an artificial reef about 10 miles off the coast of Kiawah Island where water temperatures were 75 degrees F.

From left to right: first mate, Charlie Lewis; boat captain, David Redd; friends Elena Terry and Joe and Jane Sylvan; Chuck Erbe and Amber White from NAIB; Kelly Thorvalson from SCA; and owner of the El Tejano, John Hill.
Joe and John on the way out to the reef. Once there, these two helped release Charlie, the 150 pound loggerhead.
A beautiful morning!
John and Kelly chatting, most likely about sea turtles or fishing!
The Release
Merigo is a 9-pound juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the most endangered of all of the sea turtle species. Merigo was brought to the South Carolina Aquarium with a group of sea turtles found cold stunned off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts and initially treated at the New England Aquarium. Because sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they become hypothermic when exposed to extremely cold water temperatures. Merigo is the last of the MA group to be released.

Ready, set...
Swim, swim away! Good luck, Merigo!

Charlie is a 150-pound loggerhead sea turtle that was captured by the SCDNR In-Water Research Program in June. Charlie was injured by a stingray caught in the same net, the barb puncturing the front left flipper and neck. Because stingrays release venom from their barbs, medical treatment is necessary.

Charlie was anxious to go and was only on the side of the boat for about 5 seconds before being released!

Goodbye and good luck, Charlie!

Olympian is a 9-pound juvenile green sea turtle that was brought to the National Aquarium in Baltimore's Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) after being spotted floating off the New Jersey coast in August. Olympian was treated for over-inflated lungs and possible pneumonia. The National Aquarium team has attached a satellite tag to Olympian and hopes that the tag will lend insight as to where the turtle overwinters, and if/when it returns to the east coast next year. You can keep an eye on Olympian’s journey here.

Amber ready to release little Olympian!
Good luck little Olympian! 
When you go to Olympian's tracking map, notice that within a day of the release 10 miles offshore, s/he had travelled right to the Charleston Harbor, not far from the South Carolina Aquarium! This is certainly not the best place for sea turtles because of the boat traffic but luckily, s/he made it out and is hugging the coast traveling north. Interesting that despite being released off the coast, his instincts brought him right back inshore!

Want More?
Check out the media articles about this release:

News 4 Charleston video and article
Post and Courier article
Post and Courier video and article

Thanks to all involved in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of these sea turtles. It takes an army to make it happen and each and every step along the way is so important!

Kelly Thorvalson and Whitney Daniel
Sea Turtle Rescue Program staff
South Carolina Aquarium

Friday, October 26, 2012

Third Sea Turtle Admitted To Sea Turtle Rescue Program Within A Week

On Tuesday evening, October 23nd,  naturalists from Kiawah's Night Heron Nature Center were finishing a tour when they noticed something floating near the dock at Mingo Point. As they drew closer, they realized it was a small endangered green sea turtle. The little green was transported by Charlotte Hope from SCDNR to the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital. Weighing only 1.9kg (4lbs), "Mini Ming" is the smallest green ever admitted into the Sea Turtle Rescue Program!

Blood gas values weren't too alarming but did show signs of dehydration. We will continue to monitor these levels due to lethargic behavior and state when initially rescued. Treatments included antibiotic and vitamin injections as well as fluid therapy to resolve dehydration. X-rays revealed a full GI tract and bone lysis in the left carpus. After treatments, Mini Ming was transferred to a small shallow water pool over night.

Scratches and moderate barnacle coverage of Mini Ming's carapace.

Taking a good breathe after being prepped for blood draw.
Biologist Whitney drawing blood. Blood gas values give details on Mini Ming's current state and to determine proper treatment.
Staff uses a doppler to get a heart rate.
Normsol fluids were administered using a catheter through the axillary region.
X-ray showing food in the GI tract and bone lysis to the left carpus.
Mini Ming, happy to be back in water after triage.

Mini Ming is now enjoying a larger tank and is resting comfortably at the bottom. We are not sure why the turtle was floating in the waters at Mingo Point but do know that it is what saved his/her life. Come visit Mini Ming and the other patients currently under the South Carolina Aquarium's care by taking one of our behind-the-scenes hospital tours. Huge thanks to the naturalists from Night Heron Nature Center and SCDNR for their help and assistance in the rescue and transport of Mini Ming!
Whitney Daniel 
Sea Turtle Biologist

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two New Patients Admitted into Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital

On Sunday, October 14th, a boater in the Folly River witnessed a small sea turtle being hit by the boat just ahead of him and was, fortunately, able to come to its rescue. Affectionately named Ollie from Folly, the 4.4 kg (~10 pound) endangered green sea turtle was transported by SC Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist, Charlotte Hope, and was quite subdued during transport and admission.

Treatment included pain medication, antibiotic and vitamin injections, fluid therapy, and wound flushing. The turtle was intubated because it was not breathing on its own for several hours. Although the turtle was left in dry dock the first two nights, s/he is now residing in a filtered tank with a low water level.

The boat strike fractured the skull from the nares (nostrils) to the mandible (upper jaw).
In addition to the fresh wounds on the anterior portion of the carapace, there are also several old wounds present on the posterior part of the shell and plastron.
A combination of severe injuries and pain medication slowed Ollie's breathing considerably. The turtle was intubated so staff could breath for him during admission.
Fluids were administered through a catheter in the axillary region of the body.
Ollie was left on a ventilator overnight because he wasn't breathing on his own.

On Friday, October 19th, a 44kg (~100 pound) loggerhead was captured in the net of a research vessel being operated by the SCDNR SEAMAP program just outside of North Island. The turtle sustained two puncture wounds from the barbs of stingrays that were caught in the same net and suffered severe blood loss as a result. Through the evening, the vessel made its way to Charleston, arriving at approximately 11pm. Needless to say, it was a late night for the rescue team!

Angry sea turtles don't like to stop moving, so it was a battle to get the bleeding stopped. Constant pressure was applied to the wounds (it was primarily the front flipper wound that kept bleeding). Because of blood loss, the turtle suffered from a very low PCV and blood protein; therefore, hetastarch fluids were administered IV. In addition, sodium chloride was administered subcutaneously and antibiotics and vitamins were given.

All attempts were made to keep the turtle quiet and to stop the bleeding from the wound on the ventral side of the front right flipper.

The barb wound to the ventral side of the right front flipper is indicated in this photo.

Wounds were examined and treated, blood taken, and supportive care given to the turtle.
Both turtles are now residing in filtered tanks in the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital. You can follow the progress of these patients and all the sea turtles being treated in our Sea Turtle Hospital here. Huge thanks to all involved in the rescue of these injured sea turtles and to Barbara Bergwerf for her neverending photographic support.

Kelly Thorvalson
Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eddie Suffers from Intestinal Coccidia Infection

Little Eddie, a green sea turtle rescued from Edisto's waters in late August, is feisty and enjoying a shallow tank of filtered water in our Sea Turtle Hospital. However, he is still fighting a tendency for his rear end to float. The video below was taken last week and shows that Eddie’s buoyancy issue has improved since admittance (see admittance blog with video here) but still remains problematic.

When Eddie was admitted, his inability to dive led us to suspect he had an intestinal impaction that was causing excess gas in his GI tract. We’ve been monitoring the progress of his GI tract for about 7 weeks now via a tube-fed contrast agent (see photo) and a regular series of x-rays. While he has passed most of the gas and has had fairly regular fecals, Eddie’s caudal end is still positively buoyant.

Eddie's mouth is gently held open while he is tube-fed a contrast agent.
Our veterinarian, Dr. Shane Boylan, orients Eddie on the cassette for an x-ray.
Luckily, a recent routine microscopic exam of Eddie’s poop revealed the presence of the coccidian parasite Caryospora cheloniae, which is specific to green sea turtles. This parasite is known to cause severe inflammation of the intestinal tract and may be at least partially responsible for the impaction-like symptoms we are seeing in this turtle. Eddie has now begun receiving an oral medication to treat this infection every other day and, luckily, he swallows his medication hidden in a bit of fish like a champ!

Eddie has tolerated his various treatments well, and we are hopeful he'll make a full recovery.
Eddie is a challenging case, but we are exploring all of our options to treat this turtle and are hopeful he will make a full recovery while overwintering in our hospital. Please wish Eddie well as he struggles to overcome his health issues!

Christi Hughes
Sea Turtle Biologist