Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
Arrival Date: 6/15/18
Weight: 6.3 kg (13.8 lbs)
This young, juvenile green sea turtle was spotted floating near a dock on Hilton Head Island. Captain Trent and fellow rescuers knew something was wrong as Luna was unable to fully submerge and kept repeatedly trying to dive down. They called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) stranding hotline (1-800-922-5431) to let them know they found a sick and/or injured sea turtle. One of the rescuers paddled out on a kayak to get Luna. Despite floating, she was surprisingly quick and agile! Once on board the kayak, she was brought back to the dock where they waited for SCDNR staff member Emma Schultz to arrive, and transport the turtle to the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center.
Luna Lovegood arrived with an already healed boat-strike wound to her carapace. She had three distinct propeller strikes that transected over her spine. Given the location of the injury, it is very surprising that she possessed full mobility of all four limbs. The healed boat strike and spinal involvement has caused her shell to heal with a minor outward bend. This coupled with her chronic floating is a condition that has colloquially been dubbed “Bubble Butt Syndrome.” This ailment is usually tough to treat, particularly if there is lung or coelmic (body cavity) air involved. Many turtles with Bubble Butt Syndrome end up as permanent residents, as they are chronic floaters and deemed non-releasable. The triage process was quick because she was in relatively decent body condition. Her blood work looked good, too. It was evident that despite her inability to dive, she was still able to actively forage. Luna received radiographs, fluids and vitamins and was started on a course of antibiotics. She was placed down in ICU to rest comfortably overnight.
June 16, 2018: The following day, Luna received a CT scan to assess the spinal involvement and root cause of the floating. There was significant gas present in the GI tract, as well as a lot of fecal material. After reviewing the imagery, Dr. Bryan suspected Luna was floating due to all of the intestinal gas.
June 20, 2018: Luna was tube-fed some mineral oil and simethicone to help alleviate some of the accumulated gas and assist with gut motility. She continues to defecate regularly and has started to gobble up small pieces of salmon.
June 25, 2018: Somewhat surprisingly, Luna is able to completely submerge herself and rest on the bottom of her tank! Although the tank water level is only about a foot deep, this is a very promising sign. She has also started to eat her veggies, which is great as we strive to feed green sea turtles a 5:1 ratio of veggies to fish.
July 15, 2018: Luna continues to have caudal buoyancy (rear end floating), but is able to fully submerge underwater. Since we haven’t seen any significant change in her buoyancy over the past couple weeks, we elected to do a repeat CT scan. On Wednesday, Luna received another CT scan to monitor the amount of GI gas. There is still a significant amount of gas present. For the time being we will keep her diet as is, and start to increase the water level to see how she does in deeper water.
August 1, 2018: Luna was recently moved to a different tank with added filtration and a slightly deeper water level. Recent CT scan shows that the GI gas has resolved which is a great sign! However, she is still intermittently floating, so there may be more going on than meets the eye. The vet staff is starting to suspect that the floating may be more neurologic than gas related. Only time will tell if the buoyancy disorder corrects itself. In the meantime we will try weight therapy. In the next couple weeks we will velcro various small weights to the back of her shell to help assist with her ability to rest on the bottom, and remain horizontal.
August 15, 2018: We have started weight therapy to help correct or at least offset Luna’s caudal buoyancy. Dr. Bryan Vorbach applied Velcro to her carapace and placed several small weights to her back end. Despite some silicon malfunction and the Velcro peeling off initially, it seems to be working! This will add just enough counterweight so she can rest comfortably on the bottom of her tank.
September 1, 2018: After a few attempts at keeping the velcro and weights on, it seems that we have found the perfect solution: coral glue and dual lock fastener! Luna appears to be taking well to the added weights and is commonly seen resting comfortably on the bottom of her shallow water tank.
October 1, 2018: Luna has been doing very well over the past month! We have been playing with lots of different weight pouches to find the best option to help her rest with her buoyancy issue. Luna’s water level is deeper now that she’s able to dive and rest on the bottom of her tank.
October 15, 2018: Luna’s caudal buoyancy still persists, and staff continues to seek out the perfect type of glue to keep her weight pouch and velcro adhered. Every Monday and Friday we take Luna outside, weather permitting, to get some sunshine. The natural UV radiation helps in the synthesis of Vitamin D and the absorption of calcium.
November 1, 2018: Luna has joined her fellow boat-strike tank mate up in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery. Like Fawkes, you can also see Luna’s weight pouch in action. Luna is doing really well with it, and seems to be able to maintain normal buoyancy with it on. Come check out Luna Lovegood in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery!
November 15, 2018: Luna has been doing well in her tank on the 1st floor of the aquarium. Her weight therapy was going really well, and we were able to increase her water depth a couple of weeks ago. We have recently replaced her weight pouch since it had fallen off. It is doing its job well and keeping her in a normal orientation the majority of the time, allowing her to rest on the bottom of her tank. She eats well and defecates regularly, both of which are good things! We will continue the weight therapy over the winter and test her buoyancy from time to time to see if it is helping.
December 1, 2018: It has been difficult trying to keep Luna’s weight pouch on her shell! Luna’s weight pouch has fallen off multiple times since our last update. We keep replacing it and trying slightly different techniques each time to achieve the perfect combination that will keep the Velcro glued to her shell. This week she was pulled from her tank for a CT scan and measurement to look at whether or not her shell has deformed since her arrival. No changes were detected. Green sea turtles can reach up to 500 pounds so Luna has a long way to go before she is full grown. As she grows bigger, the wound and associated tissues will also change, maybe for better, maybe for worse. We will track it regularly to see if anything changes while she is in rehab.
December 15, 2018: Since our last update, Luna has been doing fantastic. We have been able to get her weight pouches to stick and they seem to be helping. She is in half a tank of water and we are periodically increasing it to test how the pouches do and how they might need to change. She continues to eat well and defecate regularly. We are happy with her progress so far but she still has a long way to go!
January 1, 2018: Luna is doing really well with her weight pouch. She is able to rest on the bottom of her tank and swim to the surface to eat and breathe. We are continuing to increase her water depth over time to monitor her ability to swim in deeper water with the weight pouch.
January 15, 2018: Luna is almost at a full tank with her weight pouch! She actually seems to do pretty well without it and has been observed resting flat on the bottom of her tank. However, she still has issues controlling her buoyancy throughout the day so we are continuing to do weight pouch therapy with her.
February 1, 2019: Luna is now at a full tank of water! As long as her weight pouch is securely fastened to her shell she swims around like a completely healthy turtle. She has been defecating and eating regularly as well. It is unlikely we will be able to cure her buoyancy problem. If that is the case, she will be sent to a zoo or aquarium for long-term care as an ambassador animal.
February 15, 2019: Luna continues to do great. She eats and defecates regularly and as long as her weight pouch is securely fastened to her shell, she does great! About once a week the glue on the pouch loses its power and the pouch falls off. There are many different ways to attach the pouches but using this method has worked well for us, despite having to replace it once a week. When the pouch is off, her caudal buoyancy is unpredictable. Sometimes she floats at the surface of her tank until the pouch can be replaced, and other times she can be seen on or near the bottom with only slight buoyancy.
March 1, 2019: Luna has had an eventful week. When her weight pouches fell off last weekend and vet staff pulled her from her tank to replace, they found a suspicious spot on her left inguinal (hip) area. A small sample was taken and shipped off to a lab to find out if it is a fibropapilloma tumor. Luna was moved to a quarantine tank in the ICU to prevent cross contamination to our other turtles. Fibropapillomatosis (FP) is a virus that infects green sea turtles and can be contagious. We have an exam scheduled soon to remove the remainder of the tumor and freeze the area like one would freeze a wart. We have had success with this method in the past and have not had significant regrowth of the tumors after the freezing method was used.
March 15, 2019: Luna’s preliminary results from the lab testing of the suspect tumor have come back positive for fibropapillomatosis. We will continue to put her under quarantine to prevent cross contamination to other sea turtles. This week, the remainder of the tumor was fully removed and she received a full exam. She is in good body condition, but we will need to closely monitor her for more tumors on her soft tissues.
April 1, 2019: Luna’s final results came back, and she is officially positive for FP. Thankfully, the wound from removing the tumor has healed very nicely. It’s covered in fibrin, which is essentially a scab, and the skin around the area looks very healthy. We’re continuing to watch other areas on her body for more tumors. Despite the FP, Luna is doing great. She’s gaining weight and stays very active in her tank. Her weight pouches have been holding strong so she’s able to maintain her buoyancy.
April 15, 2019: Luna is doing pretty good! We haven’t seen any new growths so far, and the area where we removed a small FP growth is healing up. We will do weekly checks on Luna to make sure that nothing new has popped up and to monitor the area of the one we removed.
May 4, 2019: No major news to report on Luna. Her weight pouch fell off last week. While replacing it, we did an exam to look at her FP site; it’s healing up well and there are no regrowths.
May 15, 2019: Luna is continuing to do well. Her FP site looks great, it’s healing and we haven’t noticed any further regrowths. We are in the process of creating a harness for her weights to sit on. Hopefully that’ll help with the weights falling off so often.
June 15, 2019: Nothing new to report for Luna. Each time her weights fall off we get a new weight and measurement. She is steadily gaining weight and growing too. She is in great body condition!
July 1, 2019: Luna is doing well. We have been keeping a close eye on her FP site, and it does look like there is something beginning to grow. We’re not sure if it is another pap, but we will continue to monitor the area closely.
August 1, 2019: The area on Luna’s FP site continued to grow and she needed to have it removed. Earlier this month, we sedated her and removed the second small pap from that area, and she’s healing well. The area is covered in a nice layer of fibrin and the tissue underneath looks healthy. We are going to continue to monitor her closely for any more regrowth.
September 1, 2019: Luna rode out the storm upstairs in a temporary, quarantine holding pool. She did great and is glad to be back in her regular pool downstairs again. The FP removal site is healing well, and we have not seen any signs of regrowth. She is eating great and maintaining a good body condition.
October 1, 2019: Luna has been doing great! There is nothing new to report, but we evaluate her weekly to look for any FP regrowth. So far, everything looks good.
October 15, 2019: We have not seen any regrowth at the tumor removal site for Luna, but recently we’ve noticed some issues with her buoyancy and periods of low activity. So, we conducted a full suite of diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, radiographs, and a CT scan. The scan showed increased mineralization around the original injury site, which could be constricting the spinal cord and causing other symptoms we’ve noticed. We are working on a treatment plan to try to resolve this issue so Luna can have the best quality of life.
November 1, 2019: Since Luna’s last update, we have added more weights to her pouch, which has helped her better maintain her buoyancy. We still have concerns about her recent behavior changes and continue to run diagnostic tests to better access her spinal cord condition.
December 1, 2019: We recently conducted an MRI on Luna to get a more detailed image of the area of concern on her shell from the boat strike. The damage to her vertebrae and spinal is more severe than we originally thought. We are in the process of determining how to move forward and are evaluating her potential quality of life as a captive animal.
February 15, 2020: Over the last few months our veterinary team has been performing several diagnostic tests as Luna’s condition has been gradually deteriorating. The deformity from the boat strike to her carapace has been compounded by the rapid growth rate that occurs in juvenile turtles. The last MRI revealed that her vertebrae and spinal cord are completely severed. We had already begun to see both behavioral and physiological changes such as the inability to maintain her buoyancy even with weight pouch therapy, decreased frequency of defecations, and the decreased mobility of her rear flippers. As a non-releasable patient, her long term quality of life would not be optimal and we have exhausted all options to treat her. It was therefore determined that euthanasia was the most humane option. Our veterinary team was able to conduct a necropsy, or animal autopsy, to help us learn from her case, in order to apply that knowledge to future cases. Although it is not the outcome that any of us had hoped for, we are thankful for all of your support during the course of Luna’s rehabilitation.