Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: North Cape Island, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, SC
Arrival Date: 6/24/2020
Weight: 32.66 kgs (71 lbs)
Bella was found stranded on North Cape Island by U.S Fish and Wildlife biologists, who monitor sea turtle and shore bird nesting in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. After observing that she was covered in epibionts and very lethargic, she was likely a debilitated turtle. Biologists contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and boated Bella to a dock to be picked up by SCDNR transporter Abby Chaney. Abby then transported Bella the rest of the way to South Carolina Aquarium for emergency treatment.
Bella’s appearance indicated that she had debilitated turtle syndrome (DTS) characterized by lethargy, emaciation and a heavy epibiont load. The epibiont load was present on her shell and flippers, along with lots of parasitic marine leeches. Bella received a thorough exam and a blood draw. Bloodwork results indicated that Bella was dehydrated, anemic, and had low blood proteins. Bella also had a low glucose (blood sugar) level, so fluids with a small amount of dextrose (sugar) were administered subcutaneously (under the skin) along with vitamins and additional fluids. Bella also received Hetastarch, which was administered intravenously. Hetastarch helps to increase the volume of blood plasma of patients by pulling in fluids and vitamins into the vascular space, helping to circulate the red blood cells through the bloodstream and deliver oxygen throughout the body more effectively. Bella’s heart rate was strong but low, which is what we usually see with DTS patients. Bella was started on antibiotics to help combat any opportunistic secondary infections that can occur because of a lowered immune system. She was also started on calcium injections to help replenish her calcium store. DTS patients typically have a soft shell due to the calcium depletion, so the injections help them rebuild and replenish it. After her fluids were administered, Bella was set up in a shallow water tank with low salinity to rest comfortably overnight. She was covered in marine leeches, which contribute to the anemia, so the salinity of the water was kept low to help them detach and die.
July 1, 2020: Bella was very quiet and lethargic the first few days after admit which is to be expected. She received fluid therapy, and perked up after a few days. We began to offer food and she ate immediately, which is a great sign! To help give her additional support we administered partial parenteral nutrition (PPN), which is essentially sugars, fats and carbs in liquid form that are given intravenously. PPN is helpful because she does not have to digest it through her gastrointestinal tract and her body will absorb extra nutrition immediately. We had to do several freshwater dips to help remove the leeches and leech eggs that were attached to her. We will continue to increase her water level slowly over the next couple of weeks and slowly reintroduce food to her. Send good vibes for Bella, please!
July 15, 2020: Bella recently received a simple physical exam during one of her normal injection treatments. She has already gained weight, and her shell is more solid than when she arrived. She is about halfway done with her treatments and we are happy with her progress. She is feisty and loves to eat crumbs from all over the tank!