Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Update on "Huntington"

I was surprised to learn about the health problem of my favorite patient when I first started my internship with the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program. She is a large loggerhead named Huntington and is recovering from an intestinal impaction caused by a dense mass of scallop shells, a natural prey item for loggerheads.

For those of you that remember when Huntington was admitted in May, she was positively buoyant (floating), thin, and lethargic. Loggerheads are known for their large heads and powerful jaws which they use to crush the hard shells of their prey. So how and why does one get harmed by shells? The answer remains a mystery.

Up until early August, Huntington couldn't dive below the surface of the water due to a large pocket of air trapped inside the intestines from the impaction. S/he floated with one side higher than the other due to the location of the impaction and the excess gas, which meant we had to keep her in only ~18 inches of water. If we filled her tank all the way up, she would have floated completely sideways!

Huntington passed the impaction thanks to various treatments including tube-feeding mineral and cod liver oils to lubricate the intestinal tract, as well as massage therapy, where we applied large vibrating massagers externally around the area of the impaction to stimulate movement. Because Huntington couldn't be fed during treatment for the impaction, regular fluids with dextrose were administered to keep her blood glucose at normal levels. These treatments occurred every 2-3 days for almost 6 weeks, quite a feat for a turtle that weighs 150 pounds!

Once the impaction passed, we were able to start feeding Huntington small amounts of food. This hungry loggerhead is now eating 4.5 pounds of food each day and is an amazing sight to see! She swims without any buoyancy problems, is very close to having a normal body weight and her blood work has greatly improved. She possesses a beautiful carapace beaming with its natural colors. This was an amazing recovery for me to watch and assist with, especially considering that this turtle likely would likely have died without our help. Watching these sick and injured sea turtles recover from illness or injury is the most rewarding part of my internship and I am looking forward to the day when Huntington is released back into the wild.

Romina Ramos
2013 Sea Turtle Rescue Program Intern

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Loggerhead "Pluff" Being Released on October 10th!

"Pluff," a 65-pound loggerhead sea turtle treated by the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program, will be released this Thursday, October 10, 2013 at the Folly Beach County Park.  The public is invited to come out to watch as Pluff returned the ocean at 4:30 p.m.   The release is being held in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC).  Attendees are encouraged to arrive early, carpool and are reminded that parking fees apply at the county park.

Pluff was found stranded in the marsh on Hilton Head Island in June of this year.  Upon admittance to the Sea Turtle Hospital, Pluff  Blood tests were performed and the turtle was found to have extremely low blood protein (hypoprotenemia) and a low level of red blood cells (anemia).  Supportive care including antibiotics, vitamin injections and fluid therapy were immediately started.  After just four months of care, Pluff has fully recovered and is ready to be returned to the Atlantic Ocean once again. 
Huge thanks to all who helped with Pluff's rescue and rehabilitation. Hope you can join us!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reflecting on Another Record Loggerhead Nesting Season - An Intern's Story about Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

As part of my internship with the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program, I have the opportunity to participate in loggerhead nest protection with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. My first day out at Cape Romain was the buggiest day of the season.  Not just little everyday gnats, but immortal, flesh-eating, black flies that surrounded us and would bite right through our clothing. No matter how much bug spray we poisoned our skin with, they just kept on coming.  The 90-degree weather typical of early September here in the Lowcountry certainly did not help and, as you can imagine, digging up hundreds of old sea turtle eggs smelled just delicious. 

In order to get to this unihabited barrier island, we take a boat out at sunrise.  Once we’re out on the boat with the wind in our faces, we are usually lucky enough to witness the most beautiful, captivating sunrises you can imagine.  This is good, as it reminds me of why I wake up at such an ungodly hour to volunteer with U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s (FWS) loggerhead sea turtle nest protection efforts.  It’s the most beautiful view and being on the water is so serene. I can’t even explain how refreshed it makes you feel.

As soon as we arrive at Cape Romain, we inventory all of the sea turtle nests on the island.  This means we dig up each nest that has already hatched, count the number of hatched shells, bad eggs (eggs that never hatched), live turtles, and dead turtles. It can be determined if a nest has hatched by looking for hatchling tracks and a slight concavity or indent in the sand.  If we are lucky, we might come across a little live hatchling that may have gotten stuck in the roots or could not make it out with the rest of them.  I promise you, these little nuggets are the cutest creatures you will ever see.  Their willpower to get to the ocean is absolutely ridiculous.  Hatchlings have a long way to crawl before they reach the water, and along the way they need to avoid many predators such as ghost crabs, sea gulls, and raccoons.  The strength that they possess in those little flippers astounds me.  Though they are tough, it has actually been estimated that only 1 in 1000 hatchlings will make it to sexual maturity (adulthood).  In my opinion, having the opportunity to see these little hatchlings trek it to the ocean, makes the vicious flies worth enduring.

One of my most memorable experiences at Cape Romain this year was when we arrived to the island and heard the screeching noises of very excited sea gulls. Naturally, I just assumed the seagulls were ecstatic about a floating piece of bread some fisherman had dropped.  But I was clearly wrong. Jerry, a biologist with FWS, started yelling for us to grab buckets and to follow him.  We were sprinting after him with no idea what was happening, until I saw about 50 seagulls flying around a nest that was in the process of hatching.  I was getting to see a nest hatch! We shooed all the annoying seagulls away and watched as about 80 baby sea turtles emerged from the sand.  Absolutely incredible! As they began to crawl towards the ocean we would pick them up and place them in a bucket in order to later release them to the ocean where there were no seagulls around to snatch them up.

The exhausting day of field works comes to an end after we’ve checked all the nests, and we get back on the boat.  On the ride back to the dock at McClellanville, we often see great horned owls (my favorite), peregrine falcons, dolphins, bonnet head sharks, and many other beautiful animals along with the breath-taking scenery.  The last, most satisfying perk at the end of the long but amazing day is always eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the car ride home, and looking forward to the next week of inventory!

Unfortunately, loggerhead nesting season has now come to an end and my time at Cape Romain has finished for this year.  But being able to witness a nest hatching is an experience I will never forget.  Times like these are the little pieces of natural beauty that one gets to experience on a day out at Cape Romain, and something that will be held onto forever.  Yes, you will most likely get eaten alive by monstrous black flies, but I promise you it will be worth every single bug bite.
Kelly Lane
STRP Fall 2013 Intern



Monday, September 23, 2013

PHOTO BLOG: September 14, 2013 Sea Turtle Release

Thanks to all who came out to watch Parker, Dennis, Crosby and Skully be returned to the ocean after several months of rehabilitation at the South Carolina Aquarium! For those of you that were unable to make it, here are a few shots of these beautiful creatures going home.

Parker The five-pound juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle was accidentally caught by a recreational fisherman at the Myrtle Beach State Park Pier in June 2013. 

Parker avoiding capture from Kelly!
Sea Turtle Hospital volunteer Jo Durham shows Parker to onlookers as she heads down the beach!
Dennis: This juvenile Kemp's ridley was one of 18 cold stunned sea turtles admitted by the South Carolina Aquarium in the winter of 2012/13. Dennis was last of the cold-stuns to be released due a joint infection he developed in the right front flipper.

Sea Turtle Hospital volunteer Jo Durham and laser therapist Jennifer Oliverio pose with Parker and Dennis right before release, with a little help from adoptive parent sign holders, Kendal and Ainsley Chunn!

Jennifer Oliverio show Dennis off to onlooker while making her way down the beach.

A beautiful photograph of Dennis before s/he heads in!

Crosby: A 9-pound juvenile green sea turtle was found floating near Crosby's Seafood on the Folly River in April of this year, the same night as the Aquarium's Annual Conservation Gala.

Crosby is pulled from his/her tank right before heading to the beach!

Sea Turtle Hospital volunteer Jacquie Miller shows off Crosby to the crowd with some help from sign holder, Nate Millen!

Crosby getting a little excited!
Taking a little rest before heading in.
Skully: The 70-pound juvenile loggerhead stranded on a sandbar in Skull Inlet near Fripp Island in June.
Kelly and Lee load the Skully into the transport bin.
Janie and Mallory from the Fripp Island Turtle Team with Skully.
Janie, Mallory and Kelly carried Skully to the waters edge. The Aquarium's partnership with the turtle nest protection teams are so important! The Oliverio kids held signs so the onlookers knew who was being released!

A great shot of the large crowd watching Skully head home!

Heading home!

These releases bring the South Carolina Aquarium to 129 sea turtles released since the start of the program in 2000. A big thanks to everyone who makes the rescue, rehabilitation and release of these sea turtles possible, including the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, donors, volunteers, interns, and the media that helps to spread the good word about our work!

Whitney Daniel
Sea Turtle Biologist

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Three Sea Turtles Being Released Saturday, September 14th!

Three sea turtles from the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program are ready to return to the sea! One green sea turtle, Crosby, one Kemp's ridley sea turtle, Parker, and one loggerhead sea turtle, Skully, will be released at the Isle of Palms County Park at 10 a.m., this Saturday, September 14, 2013.
The release is being held in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources(SCDNR) and the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC).  The public is invited to join the festivities and are encouraged to carpool, arrive early, and are reminded that parking fees apply at the county park.
More on the sea turtles being released:
Skully, a 70-pound juvenile loggerhead was found by canoers stranded on a sandbar in Skull Inlet near Fripp Island in June.  When Skully was admitted to the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital, biologists discovered old wounds to his/her plastron which were inhabited by marine leeches; the turtle was also thin, lethargic, anemic, and dehydrated.  The leeches were flushed out of the wound, and supportive care was administered.  Skully is now back to optimal health and is ready for a return to the open ocean.
Parker, a five-pound juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle, was accidentally caught by a recreational fisherman at the Myrtle Beach Pier in June of this year.  Upon admittance to the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital, Parker was emaciated, dehydrated, and had poor blood work.  Due to the location of the hook, the Aquarium's staff veterinarian removed it without surgery.  Treatment for Parker included injectable antibiotics and vitamins, fluids, and plenty of food to help him/her gain weight.  Three months after admission, Parker is healthy, strong, and swimming around the tank ready to head back home.

Crosby, a 9-pound juvenile green sea turtle was found floating near Crosby's Seafood on the Folly River in April of this year, the same night as the Aquarium's annual Conservation Gala.  Captain Gresh Megget of Absolute Reel Screamer Charters called SCDNR officials after noticing the little green sea turtle swimming erratically and covered in marine growth.  During Crosby's stay at the Sea Turtle Hospital, s/he received fluids and antibiotics, and minor carapace wounds were flushed and treated.  In May, Crosby's buoyancy improved and s/he began eating a diet of fish and fresh vegetables.  Now strong and healthy, Crosby is ready to return to the sea turtle population off the East Coast.


We would like to send a huge thank you to everyone involved in the successful rehabilitation of these animals including rescuers, transporters, partner organizations, donors, volunteers, and staff - we could not do it without you!

Hope to see you all there!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Update on Briar!

If you are an avid follower of our blog or made a visit to the hospital in late May, you probably remember Briar, a horribly ill loggerhead with a grim prognosis. On the night we received Briar, we found her barely clinging to life, emaciated and with horrible blood values. Staff and volunteers rushed in every morning fingers crossed that she was still with us. Briar proved to be a fighter, amazing us all by making improvements everyday!

It has been 3 months since Briar was admitted, and she looks like a completely different turtle! After being moved from critical care, Briar developed a huge appetite and has been eating 2 pounds of fish and blue crabs daily. Becasue of her active appetite, she has gained approximately 50 pounds and is now at a healthy weight of 165 lb. She has become a favorite on tours, showing her fiesty side trying to bite anything that passes by the window! This change in behavior is an indicator that she feeling much better. During her last medical work up, blood work had improved drastically since admittance but showed she is still slightly anemic. Iron injections have been started and our fingers are crossed for a late summer release!

"Come see me soon!"

Come visit Briar and the rest of our patients on a behind-the-scenes Sea Turtle Hospital Tour, now offered 7 days a week, at 12:00 pm & 2:00pm!

Whitney Daniel
Sea Turtle Biologist

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

July 31, 2013 Sea Turtle Release Photo Blog!

Sutton:  Juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle; one of 18 cold stunned sea turtles admitted by the South Carolina Aquarium in the winter of 2012/13. To learn more about Sutton's admission and rehab, go to his/her hospital page.
Sutton is pulled from his/her tank with loggerhead, Pluff watching in the background!
2013 Sea Turtle Hospital Summer Intern, Megan Kelley, gives Sutton a lift to the water with a big smile on her face. Martha holds the sign to let everyone know the turtle's name. 
A little turtle in front of a big crowd...but there was no stage fright! Sutton wasted no time scurrying into deeper water!
Headed home!

Raker: Juvenile green sea turtle; the first live stranding of the 2013 SC stranding season. To learn more about Sutton's admission and rehab, go to his/her hospital page.
Raker just before being lifted from his/her tank to head to the beach.
2013 Sea Turtle Hospital Summer Intern, Carissa Brown, shows Raker to onlookers as she makes her way down the beach. Our young sign holder, Anne, helped everyone see who was being released. 
A beautiful close-up of Raker.
Slow and steady, Raker made his way into the ocean.
Megan and Carissa have each worked 40-50 hours per week in the Sea Turtle Hospital this summer and are captured relishing in the excitement of helping to rehabilitate and release these endangered species.
Splinter: Juvenile loggerhead sea turtle caught on board a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources research vessel; found with a large foreign object embedded in a rear flipper. To learn more about Splinter's admission and rehab, go to his/her hospital page.
Sign holders, Susanna and Lily watch as Splinter is pulled out of the transport container.

Mike Arendt (right), Principal Investigator of SCDNR In-Water Research Program and Lexi Mechem (left), past Sea Turtle Hospital intern, release Splinter, a beautiful loggerhead that was rescued by the In-Water Research Group this year.
Splinter was placed on the beach for a few moments and quickly turned around. Our young sign holder, Campbell enjoyed her time with this funny turtle!
Splinter on the beach with his/her releasers, a few representatives from the media, and the backdrop of a huge crowd of spectators.
A regal photo of this loggerhead.
And away he/she goes!

Thank you to all who make the rescue, rehabilitation and release of these sea turtles possible including the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, donors, volunteers, interns, and even media that helps to spread the good word about our work. As you can see, the sea turtles releases draw huge crowds and as much as we try to create an organized, wonderful event for all to enjoy, large, excited crowds can sometimes get a little rowdy. Just please always remember to be kind to the people around you and let children up front so they can see, and hopefully everyone will have the experience of a lifetime!
All the best,
Kelly Thorvalson