Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Buck Hall boat landing, McClellanville, SC
Arrival Date: 07/20/2014
Weight: 34.3 kg (~75 lb.)
This juvenile loggerhead was found lethargic and floating by Buck Hall boat landing in McClellanville, SC by a recreational fisherman who contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Michelle Pate, Sea Turtle Coordinator from SCDNR, transported the animal to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital for examination and medical treatment.
Upon arrival, staff found the heart rate to be 32 beats per minute and proceeded to take morphometrics and check for pre-existing tags. Blood was taken for full analysis and despite the outward appearance (thin, loaded with barnacles, lethargic), “Buck” had excellent blood work. Because of the buoyant nature of the turtle, initial treatment included two antibiotics, subcutaneous fluids and vitamin C. When Buck was put in a shallow tank of brackish water, s/he displayed very odd swimming behavior that resembles neurological problems seen in past cases. This could turn out to be a very interesting case!
21 July 2014: Radiographs were taken to see if the cause of Buck’s floating was apparent. Typically, floating is caused by air trapped in a turtle’s gastrointestinal tract by an impaction or by air in the coelomic cavity (body cavity). Coelomic air can be caused by a number of things including internal infection. Both intestinal and coelomic air can normally be seen on x-ray but in this case we saw nothing out of the ordinary, making this case even more puzzling. So far, Buck has no interest in food.
4 August 2014: Buck and another juvenile loggerhead, Boyles, both stranded within days of each other displaying similar neurological issues and symptoms of lockjaw. These two cases do have a few differences, however. (Please check out Boyles’ page for relevant updates.)
Buck is still lethargic, asymmetrically buoyant, and being kept in a shallow tank of water. However, this turtle is eating on his own as of July 29th, which is great news as his body needs the nutrients to recover from illness. The chewing necessary to eat is great physical therapy for his jaw, which has a limited range of motion, and we are also manually exercising his jaw to increase its range of motion. We are continuing treatment with medications, including antibiotics.
24 September 2014: Thanks to the generosity of Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, Buck received a CT scan on September 12th. We were able to determine that Buck’s lungs and gastrointestinal tract are completely normal. However, this loggerhead is still exhibiting odd behaviors, including hypermetric flipper movements, and we are unable to keep him in a full tank of water due to concerns about him flipping himself upside down and potentially drowning. We will continue to closely monitor this case and seek a resolution to this turtle’s issues.
30 November 2014: Buck has improved over the past several weeks, exhibiting somewhat better equilibrium and buoyancy control. We’ve slowly been increasing her water level and, yesterday, we were finally able to fill her tank to the top. Not only will this help us tremendously in maintaining her water quality, but also this is a great step in the right direction toward recovery from her severe neurological issues.
3 December 2014: Buck has been having more difficulty finding food in her tank recently. Today, our vet confirmed she has bilateral cataracts. This is a disappointing and unexpected development.
17 February 2015: Dr. Anne Cook, a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist with Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry, performed Buck’s cataract surgery on January 30th. This required carefully anesthetizing Buck so that even her eyes would remain immobile for the surgery. Phacoemulsification, a common type of cataract surgery, was not a viable option in this case. Instead, the opaque lens was manually removed. Sutures remained in place for three weeks after surgery, during which time Buck kept his eyes closed most of the time as the sutures were likely irritating. SCA staff pulled Buck from his tank twice daily for several weeks after surgery to administer antibiotic eye drops, and both eyes have healed well without any complications.
One of the main differences with human cataract surgery is that we did not insert an artificial replacement lens, as none exist for sea turtles and we cannot release animals back into the wild with artificial components (and release is our ultimate goal). Although this means that Buck’s ability to visually focus on objects at varying distances is significantly diminished, she is adjusting well to this change and we are very happy with how well Buck has adapted to “hunting” and finding food in her hospital tank with her newly cataract-free eyes. She has even been able to hunt down and consume live blue crabs, which is a huge improvement and bodes well for her eventual release.
16 April 2015: Buck is still not completely normal in her movements, but she has certainly normalized significantly over the past several months and her neurological issues are no longer severe. We haven’t been able to narrow down a causative factor for the cataracts, but can likely rule out age and severe malnutrition based on the fact that Buck is a juvenile who was underweight but not severely emaciated when she was rescued. Interestingly, we currently have 2 loggerhead patients (Buck and Boyles) who stranded 3 days apart in July 2014 that have exhibited several similar symptoms, including lockjaw (at admission) and bilateral cataracts (developed during treatment in our hospital), so it’s possible an environmental toxin may ultimately be to blame.