loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey
Arrival Date: 09/24/2013
Weight: 34 kg (~79 lb.)
Jersey was originally caught on September 1, 2013 in a cooling canal for the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey. Getting pulled in by cooling canals isn’t a rare occurrence for sea turtles and when it happens, the turtles are caught, morphometric data is obtained, and as long as the animals are in good health they are released back into the ocean. In this particular case, the young loggerhead was not moving the left rear flipper at all and there was an old healed wound on the carapace above a partial right rear flipper. The turtle was transported to the closest rehab facility, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine, NJ where the staff fed and monitored the turtle for just over three weeks. As seal stranding season is quickly approaching the northeastern area, it was necessary to make room at the MMSC and the South Carolina Aquarium was happy to have room to take on the turtle for further evaluation and long term treatment. Luckily, private pilot and board member of the MMSC, Bill Kindle, offered to fly the loggerhead to Charleston to cut down dramatically on the transport time – thanks Bill!
Once admitted into the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital, blood was taken to run a complete blood panel. Preliminary results from the blood analysis showed Jersey had a low blood protein level which is indicative of a having poor diet in the wild. Her thin body score coincides with the blood work results. While at the MMSC, she had refused fish and was only eating live prey. For the first couple of days after being admitted into Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital, Jersey also refused fish and much time was spent by our patient volunteers coaxing the turtle to eat raw mackerel filets. On the third day, she finally got mad at the food being waved in front of her mouth so she bit into the fish! Once Jersey got that first taste in her mouth, she began eating the fish really well. Getting sick and injured sea turtles to eat a diet different than their norm is always a bit tricky and is a major step in the recovery process. We look forward to seeing Jersey’s blood protein level and weight increase as a result!
11 December 2013: Jersey has adjusted well to life in our Sea Turtle Hospital and is now one of our best (i.e. least picky) eaters. S/he is eagerly consuming mackerel, salmon, capelin, smelt, and mullet, and these healthy diet items are helping to improve her overall health and physical appearance. However, this juvenile loggerhead still does not utilize her rear flippers when swimming. X-rays of the left rear flipper show that the femur (thigh bone) and hip joint have essentially fused, thus preventing all range of motion at the hip. However, the right rear flipper appears normal in radiographs, and we’ve begun cold laser and physical therapy treatments twice weekly to see if we can improve this flipper’s motility and range of motion.
3 February 2014: We’ve recently noticed that Jersey’s scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is more apparent now than it was when s/he was admitted last September. This spinal deformity is the most likely cause of Jersey’s inability to use her rear flippers when swimming. Physical therapy has improved the range of motion in her right rear flipper somewhat, but Jersey is still functionally impaired and primarily keeps her right rear flipper tucked in close to her body while swimming. Sea turtles in the wild use their hind limbs as a rudder, which helps them evade predator attacks and forage. Nesting females have amazing rear flipper dexterity and use these limbs to dig their nest. Jersey is currently at a severe disadvantage because s/he is unable to use her rear flippers and, as such, our veterinarian has officially declared her unreleasable. As with Eddie, we are currently communicating with SCDNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find a new permanent home for this wonderful loggerhead sea turtle.
3 June 2014: Jersey is doing well in our hospital. He is still receiving massage therapy once weekly from a certified physical therapist; the right rear flipper’s range of motion has definitely improved and the flipper’s muscle mass has increased dramatically, indicating Jersey is using the flipper on his own in the tank. However, this loggerhead is still not releasable into the wild. We are currently speaking to two different facilities who may be able to provide a wonderful permanent home for him in a significantly larger tank. More to come!