Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Kiawah Island, SC
Arrival Date: 6/13/20
Weight: 65 kgs (143 lb)
Queen was found stranded by beachgoers on Kiawah Island. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) was contacted to access this stranded turtle. Charlotte Hope, SCDNR staff, arrived on the scene, and given that Queen was was lethargic, covered in barnacles, and emaciated, she immediately knew this turtle was likely debilitated. Charlotte then transported Queen to the South Carolina Aquarium for life saving treatment.
Queen’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, flippers, she was covered in pluff mud, and even had some coral growing on her shell! Queen received a thorough exam and a blood draw. Bloodwork results indicated that although Queen was not terribly dehydrated, she was severely anemic, which is another issue caused by DTS. Queen 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. Queen 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, to help circulate the red blood cells through the bloodstream and deliver oxygen throughout the body more effectively. Queen’s heart rate was strong, but on the lower end of a “normal” heart rate for a loggerhead sea turtle. Queen was also started on an antibiotic regime to help combat any opportunistic secondary infections that can occur because of a lowered immune system. Queen had very prominent cataracts in both of her eyes and we aren’t quite sure what caused them yet. Queen was set up on a heavily foam padded backboard in a low water tank to rest 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.
June 14, 2020: Queen was very quiet and received another round of fluids and vitamins the day after admit. She did perk up some, so after a water change we were able to raise the water just enough to run the filtration in the tank.
June 15, 2020: After a full day of resting, Queen’s water level was raised enough to help float her off the foam and allow her to swim if she had the strength to. Queen got around the tank comfortably, and even ate some fish off of the tongs! Send good thoughts Queen’s way as she starts her road to recovery.
July 15, 2020: Once Queen got through the first few weeks with us, she got a little stronger each day. Currently, she is almost to a low maintenance diet and is getting her water level increased slowly, but she’s at about half of a tank now. She’s going to be with us for the long haul, as it takes months, and sometimes a year or longer for a DTS case to make a full recovery. Once she’s fully stabilized and has a higher PCV, she will undergo cataract removal surgery. She will then need time to heal and recover from that. So far, Queen is on the right track and we are hoping her journey continues this way.
August 15, 2020: Queen has made it to a full tank of water and is doing fantastic. Soon we will take her out for a monthly weight and measurement check to monitor her weight gain, growth and body condition. Even with her cataracts, she is able to find her food on her own all around her tank. Once Queen is more stable, we will do cataract surgery to ensure she can live a long and prosperous life!
September 15, 2020: Queen has made it up to a much larger tank in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery! She will be pulled for a physical exam, weight and measurement next week to check on her progress. She is eating really well but is having issues targeting smaller types of fish, so we have to cut her pieces pretty large. Though she has a ways to go, we are proud of the progress Queen has made with us in just a few months!
October 15, 2020: Queen’s physical exam went better than expected! Queen’s bloodwork has improved significantly from admit, which is a great sign that she is slowly but surely recovering from DTS. She is still thin, but it can take time for a sea turtle’s digestive system to be able to absorb all the nutrients they are being fed and to start gaining weight. To help with this, we have slightly increased her diet. If this positive trend continues, we will hopefully be scheduling her cataract removal surgery sometime this winter.
December 15, 2020: Since our last update, Queen has hit some major milestones in her road to recovery! Queen had her cataract removal surgery two weeks ago, thanks to Dr. Anne Cook and our friends at Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry! Queen received eye drops daily for about two weeks to ensure that she did not develop an infection after her surgery. Since her surgery, she has begun targeting her food more efficiently and has acclimated well to her improved vision. We have also tested her ability to forage for food by using a live blue crab, and though she’s still getting the hang of it she is able to forage for them. We expect to see her ability to forage and locate food improve as she heals from her surgery. Way to go, Queen!