Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Found floating in Folly River
Arrival Date: 07/17/2014
Weight: 45.0 kg (~100 lb.)
This juvenile loggerhead was found by local fishermen, Bruce Humbert and Jimmy Walsh, as they returned to Folly boat landing from an afternoon of fishing. These gentlemen are not new to sea turtles in coastal waters this time of year so they easily recognized that the loggerhead was unable to dive and extremely lethargic. They called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and as good timing would have it, Robert Boyles, Deputy Director of the Marine Resources Division of SCDNR, was working close by in the field and transported the ill turtle to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital where staff were waiting to provide medical care.
Staff immediately noted the heavy small barnacle coverage indicating the turtle had been lethargic for a while, as well as an old boat strike wound cutting deeply in the carapace. Blood work was surprisingly good and but indicative of dehydration, therefore ~500cc of Normosol was administered subcutaneously. The wound was lightly derided, flushed with sterile saline, and topical Granulex was applied to promote tissue healing. “Boyles” was put on two types of antibiotics to kill infection. When admission treatments were complete, Boyles was put in a shallow pool of water in the Sea Turtle Hospital and s/he exhibited very odd swimming behavior that makes us think there could a neurological problem.
26 July 2014: Boyles showed no interest in food for the first several days so staff attempted to force feed by opening his/her mouth and placing fish in the back of the mouth. Although this can normally be accomplished easily by gripping the upper and lower beak and pulling them apart, it was impossible to open Boyles’ mouth without using ropes. Yikes, lockjaw. This animal will be with us for a while. Stay tuned to see what we have to do for this turtle every day!
20 August 2014: Boyles’ lockjaw required staff and volunteers to initially force feed him every day, which was quite a process! It required us to get in the tank with Boyles and float him on a dock. We would use ropes to open and close his mouth; this motion was repeated multiple times and acted as physical therapy for his constricted jaw muscles. We would then place pieces of mackerel inside Boyles’ mouth, allowing him to chew and swallow each piece. We could see the improvements in his jaw’s range of motion daily and, after two weeks of force feeding, Boyles started eating pieces of fish off tongs. This was a HUGE improvement and certainly a step in the right direction.
We subsequently tried to broadcast feed Boyles’ diet, but immediately noticed he was unable to find the food. After multiple tries with the same result, we began to worry about his vision. Staff veterinarian Dr. Boylan performed a fluorescein stain on both eyes to look for abrasions, but both eyes appeared to be ok. We reached out to our dear friend Dr. Anne Cook, a veterinary ophthalmologist, for a consultation. She examined both eyes and performed an ultrasound but found nothing abnormal. She reported both eyes were intact and looked great. Now the big question: Why is Boyles unable to see his food? We have extended his steroid treatment, which should help with any potential inflammation in the brain. Stay tuned to keep up on news and progress about this tough sea turtle.
4 November 2014: Boyles’ vision remains severely impaired despite our daily attempts to stimulate a visual response. While this juvenile loggerhead is otherwise now in decent health, he is unable to see food or live blue crabs in his tank and requires daily tong-feeding, which is fairly time-intensive. While some staff and volunteers report seeing a visual response to food on occasion, this turtle’s vision is still so impaired that it is nearly impossible to tell if the observed reaction was the result of him seeing the food or another stimulus (i.e. the scent of fish or the feeling of water moving near his head).
On a good note, we are very satisfied with the healing that has occurred on Boyles’ carapace where a boat strike caused a severe compression fracture. The healing portion of the shell is still very soft, but we knew it would take year(s) to fully harden. Since Boyles is still clinically blind, we will continue to provide him with supportive care in a safe environment while we explore and exhaust all of our options to remedy his visual impairment.
21 May 2015: Dr. Anne Cook and her great team from Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry performed a successful cataract surgery on Boyles yesterday. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Cook’s team, Boyles is the third sea turtle in our hospital to receive this surgery. While cataract surgery is commonly performed on human patients, it is very rarely performed in sea turtles and, as such, we are quickly becoming leading experts in this field. Our two previous cataract surgery patients were both released back into the ocean following a brief period of recovery (see Briar and Buck). However, despite Boyles’ surgery, he still suffers from neurological sight impairment and will not be able to be released until his vision returns.
14 October 2015: Despite over a year of various rehabilitative efforts, Boyles’ vision remains severely compromised and he is considered neurologically blind, a problem likely attributed to the boat strike he sustained prior to admission. Our vet has officially declared this loggerhead unable to be released back into the wild, which is frustrating for all involved as release is our ultimate goal. Boyles is only the third turtle in our history that has been declared non-releasable.
We’ve begun searching for a wonderful permanent home for Boyles. Hopefully, we’ll be able to place him in an AZA accredited facility in a tank similar to the Great Ocean Tank where we house Caretta, our permanent loggerhead sea turtle on exhibit. We will keep you updated on our search!
13 April 2016: Good news! So much has changed since Boyles’ last update! One of our amazing volunteers, Barb Gobien, wasn’t satisfied with his non-releasable status and committed herself to trying to help Boyles regain his vision. Barb came in literally every single day for months to provide therapy for Boyles. Boyles’ treatment consisted of “exercising” his eyes by forcing him to search for food in his tank in the hopes that his brain would generate new neural connections that would allow him to see again. The great news is that Barb’s patience and persistence have paid off! Although this loggerhead initially struggled to find very large whole fish on the bottom of his tank, he can now easily locate even small pieces of food. While Boyles’ vision is not as good as a normal loggerhead’s, this sweet turtle can easily find and consume food broadcast in his tank and even catch live blue crabs, a natural prey item for this species.
We are currently ensuring Boyles has a consistent supply of live blue crabs in his tank, both to serve as a healthy snack and to provide visual stimulation to keep improving his eyesight. Our team is hopeful that, with a bit more time in our hospital, Boyles will be able to return to the wild this year!