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