loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: North Myrtle Beach, SC
Arrival Date: 05/20/2013
Weight: 56.5 kg (~125 lb.)
The currents washed this large, severely debilitated loggerhead ashore in North Myrtle Beach Monday morning. Covered with epibionts like barnacles and sea lettuce, it was obvious this emaciated turtle had been struggling and ill for quite some time. He was in such poor condition that it was impossible to tell if he was still alive without physically touching him to check for a response. SCDNR transported this sub-adult to our Sea Turtle Hospital, where he received immediate treatment from our veterinarian and turtle crew.
Fluids, including dextrose, were started at admission to combat severe dehydration. This loggerhead’s heart rate was only 6 beats per minute (bpm) at admission, but climbed to 24 bpm several hours after the administration of IV hetastarch, a special fluid utilized in place of a blood transfusion to give the heart something to pump through the circulatory system. Blood work was similar to what we normally see with debilitated loggerheads (PCV 7%, total solids 2.9, glucose 1). Prognosis is poor, but we are all hopeful this big loggerhead will pull through.
24 July 2013: The lack of updates may have had you worried, but this turtle has quickly become a staff favorite and is doing AMAZINGLY WELL! Briar has transitioned from a severely lethargic, emaciated loggerhead into an active and sweet-tempered turtle who loves to eat (and eats a lot) and is always looking out his tank window. Briar’s prognosis is now good, but it will be a while before he is robust enough to be released. If you were able to meet Briar when he was first admitted, prepare to be amazed when you visit him again!
28 October 2013: Briar continues to thrive in our hospital and has gained over 40 pounds since being admitted. She has a big appetite and enjoys eating fish and live blue crabs. Blood work results continue to show anemia and low blood protein levels. Time and a continuous healthy diet will improve her blood work over time.
3 February 2014: Shortly after her admittance, we noticed Briar had a hard time with depth perception and was coming up short when biting at her food. This seemed to improve by mid-summer with Briar easily catching live blue crabs. Over the past couple of months, however, the issue has become more apparent. A comprehensive eye examine was recently performed by an experienced veterinary ophthalmologist and South Carolina Aquarium vet, Dr. Boylan. Unfortunately, the exam showed cataracts were present on the lenses of both eyes. We are currently discussing potential courses of treatment; stay tuned for more information.
8 April 2014: Briar has gained nearly 60 pounds during his stay with us and we are extremely satisfied with his progress. However, during a routine physical examination in March, our vet discovered a white substance (exudate) on the lower lid of Briar’s right eye. Since the exudate did not wipe away easily, we placed a sample on a slide and looked at it under a microscope. Interestingly, it turned out to be flagellated protozoa (microscopic organisms with a whip-like tail) attached and feeding on the soft tissue under the eye. Luckily, these protozoa cannot survive in a dry environment, so treatment simply involved keeping the affected area dry for a short period of time.
Briar’s eyes are being closely monitored by our vet and an experienced veterinary ophthalmologist as this subadult loggerhead is currently a candidate for cataract surgery. This is an exciting treatment option that should greatly improve Briar’s ability to visualize and capture live prey in the wild!
31 May 2014: Briar successfully underwent cataract surgery (phacoemulsification) on Friday, April 25th, to remedy the opaqueness afflicting both eyes and negatively affecting this turtle’s ability to hunt and capture live prey. Dr. Anne Cooke, a local veterinary ophthalmologist, and her staff donated their time and resources to perform the surgery free of charge; this was an amazing donation to help this big loggerhead return to the wild! While the surgical process was essentially the same as that humans undergo, artificial lenses were not implanted (or even possible) as they would be in a human patient. Despite this, Briar’s vision is now much better than it was before the surgery.
Following three arduous weeks of medicating this 180-pound loggerhead’s eyes, a process which involved pulling her from her tank twice daily to apply multiple antibiotics and steroids to the surgery sites, Briar’s eyes were healing well and Dr. Cooke removed the sutures from the cornea. Currently (5 weeks post-surgery), Dr. Cooke and the SCA’s vet, Dr. Boylan, are both very satisfied with how well Briar’s eyes have healed and consider the surgery a complete success.
The true measure of the success of the cataract surgery will be Briar’s ability to feed on live prey. Staff have been carefully monitoring and filming Briar’s feeding sessions over the past five weeks, and Briar has shown great improvement. Just after the surgery, Briar would bite at large pieces of mackerel and miss, with her beak open and initially coming down to bite about 6” in front of the fish. Her aim has improved dramatically, however, and now she is able to capture even small smelt on the first try. We will begin offering live blue crabs to Briar this week and, hopefully, she will be able to feed on them without a problem!