green (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Edisto, SC
Arrival Date: 08/26/2012
Weight: 8.06 kg (~18 lb.)
This little green sea turtle was rescued from the water by a very determined volunteer turtle patroller from Edisto. Still feisty and swimming vigorously, Eddie tried to evade rescue but was unable to dive below the surface. Green turtles feed on sea grasses and algae that grow on the sea floor, but Eddie’s buoyancy problem would have prevented him from feeding. We are thankful he was rescued before a serious noticeable decline in health (emaciation, lethargy, etc.) occurred.
When Eddie arrived at our hospital and I picked him up, it was obvious he was severely bloated. After being checked for tags (none were present), weighed, and measured, our vet did a series of radiographs so that we could get a better look at his GI tract, bones, and lungs. The initial x-ray showed a very large gas-filled loop of intestine on the right side (see black space in attached photo), but also revealed that his GI tract was full of food. One of our previous patients, Pawley, presented with almost the exact same symptoms, and we are very concerned Eddie has a severe impaction. Eddie also has a healed boat strike that must have occurred earlier this year, but he healed well in the wild and we are unsure if the boat strike is related to his current buoyancy problem. Overall, prognosis is grave.
2 September 2012: We were able to get a better view of Eddie’s intestinal tract last Wednesday thanks to the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center in West Ashley, who donated CT scans for three of our patients. These scans will assist our vet in diagnosing Eddie’s problems and in prescribing and monitoring treatments. On a very good note, Eddie has been passing fecals with no foreign bodies regularly since admittance, which is AMAZING! However, his tail end still floats, and he is likely still impacted. Our enemas and tube-feeding protocol do seem to be mobilizing the gut, though, and this is a good sign. However, prognosis remains poor.
20 September 2012: Eddie’s radiographs show his condition is slowly improving. He has been started on dextrose fluids to maintain blood glucose levels since we are not able to feed him. Keep hoping for the best for this little guy!
22 October 2012: We recently identified a coccidian parasite during a routine fecal analysis and have been treating Eddie with oral meds every other day for the past couple of weeks. This parasite is likely still confined to the GI tract, where it is known to cause impaction-like symptoms such as GI stasis (a severe reduction in the speed of movement of food through the digestive tract). In debilitated turtles, the parasite can spread throughout the body and even cause neurological symptoms as it invades the brain, but our treatments and Eddie’s robust body condition will likely prevent that from happening. Gastroview administered on August 27th still remains in his colon, although Eddie is still passing fecals. Unfortunately, we are not seeing much improvement in the flotation disorder yet either, as Eddie’s rear end remains positively buoyant.
19 November 2012: Eddie has been switched to a new medication, toltrazuril, to treat the coccidia. However, we still have not seen any improvement in his caudal buoyancy problem.
7 January 2013: Sweet Eddie is still struggling with a caudal buoyancy problem. However, he is able to dive down to the bottom of his tank to eat his small portion of lettuce and smelt each day. On a good note, his blood work looks great, and we are seeing no signs of renal damage due to the anti-parasitic medications Eddie has received. Come wish Eddie well when you visit the hospital, as this little turtle still has a lot to overcome.
26 February 2013: Eddie still has an odd physical appearance (light gray skin and shell), and recent blood work revealed very low thyroid hormone levels. Our vet has prescribed levothyroxine, which will hopefully improve his ability to shed and regenerate keratin, and may also improve his GI stasis. Eddie is now on two oral medications daily (he’s also on simethicone), but he eats well and hopefully these meds will help.
24 July 2013: Work has begun on fitting Eddie for a weight vest. He is still positively buoyant and on medication, and we are anxious to fit this neoprene vest for him so he is able to dive and swim like a normal sea turtle. Stay tuned!
7 October 2013: We’ve successfully rehabbed and released many sea turtles this past summer and are now currently holding just 8 in the hospital. This is good news for Eddie, as he recently got upgraded to our largest filtered tank. The extra exercise room is good for this little green, as it will encourage gut motility. His weight vest has gone through several revisions over the past couple of months and we are still in the process of designing a functional turtle dive suit that will help Eddie become more neutrally buoyant.
3 February 2014: Staff have spent the last several months re-examining every detail of Eddie’s case in the hopes of finding a solution for his buoyancy issue. We’ve tried numerous treatments including a one-of-a-kind weight vest, medication, and cold laser therapy. In addition, we’ve tried to induce behavioral changes and encourage Eddie to utilize the bottom of his tank by modifying his environment, a process which included dropping his water level by half and blocking his view of tour guests with the addition of a portable room divider. Unfortunately, while Eddie is otherwise happy and healthy, he continues to be caudally buoyant and spends the vast majority of his time at the surface of his tank.
At the end of January our veterinarian, Dr. Shane Boylan, officially deemed Eddie non-releasable. Ultimately, the healed boat strike wound on Eddie’s carapace (shell) is the cause of his buoyancy issue. A recent CT scan showed a large mass of fibrous tissue directly underneath the boat strike wound, which is extremely close to the spine. The nerves that control the gastrointestinal tract appear to be damaged as a result of the shell fracture and/or the pressure of the fibrous mass on the spine. This nerve damage has resulted in excess gas in Eddie’s intestinal tract due to his inability to consistently digest food at a normal rate, and the excess gas is the reason Eddie’s rear end floats. Without the ability to dive, Eddie would be unable to forage on sea grass and algae in the wild.
The news that Eddie is non-releasable is disappointing, not only for staff who have worked to rehabilitate this charismatic green turtle over the past year and a half but also for Eddie’s many visitors and supporters. However, Eddie’s quality of life is otherwise excellent, and we are currently collaborating with SCDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find a new permanent home for him. We are confident that he will do well in captivity and will serve as an excellent ambassador for his species. Eddie’s story is extremely educational in that it can help make the general public aware of how to minimize the danger seafaring boats may pose to sea turtles in the wild, and no one can tell it better than him!