green (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
Arrival Date: 01/08/2014
Weight: 7 lbs
Cold-stunned sea turtles are a fairly rare occurrence here in South Carolina; the majority of our patients are admitted due to negative human impacts such as boat strikes and hook-and-line capture. On January 8th, a 7-lb. juvenile green sea turtle was found cold and listless on the marsh side of Hilton Head Island (HHI) by a local family. At the time of stranding, air temperatures were close to freezing and water temperatures were approximately 50° F, temperatures far too cold for the ectothermic reptile. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources staff responded and with the help of Amber Kuehn of the HHI turtle nest protection team, transported her to our Sea Turtle Hospital where she received immediate life-saving treatment.
In preparation for the arrival of this juvenile green sea turtle, staff donned sweaters and turned down the thermostat in our operating room to a chilly 55°F. It is critically important to warm cold-stunned sea turtles very slowly, as a rapid change in body temperature can result in excessive physiological stress and, potentially, death. The core body temperature of this juvenile green sea turtle we’ve named “Amelia” was only 44.5°F upon arrival, far below the ~56°F threshold that can result in hypothermia and death in sea turtles. S/he was extremely lethargic, breathing irregularly only once every 5-10 minutes, so we placed a tube down her trachea to help her breathe and rid her system of excess carbon dioxide. Our vet pulled a small amount of blood for analysis and, based on these blood values, started her on fluids and medications. She was dry-docked on a bed of comfortable foam for the first few days, as she was too weak to breathe on her own in a tank of water.
20 January 2014: Although it was touch-and-go for the first week, Amelia seems to be doing much better and we are very excited with her progress. She was placed in a very shallow tank of water and constantly monitored on January 10th for a short period of time; however, she seemed very weak and was not breathing well on her own. By the 14th, she was able to remain in her tank of water all day and seemed stronger. She finally passed her first fecal on the 18th, which is a great sign that her digestive system is beginning to function. We offered her a single smelt after she passed her fecal, and she devoured it immediately! Fluid therapy has been discontinued since Amelia is now eating, but we are carefully monitoring her progress and she is still receiving antibiotics. Hopefully she will continue to eat well for us as she is fairly thin; we will slowly increase her diet over the next few weeks.
8 April 2014: This energetic little green sea turtle’s health has drastically improved during her short stay with us. Her gleaming carapace (shell), with its beautiful sunburst pattern, endears hospital tour guests to her and makes Amelia the perfect ambassador for her species. People love to learn about her story! While Amelia appears to be in perfect health, recent blood work revealed she is still slightly anemic and is suffering from hypothyroidism (reduced thyroid function). Her diet has been altered slightly and we are hopeful she will be able to be released later this spring.