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