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!
January 15, 2021: Queen received another exam by veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Anne Cook of Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry to see how Queen’s eyes have healing up 6 weeks after her cataract removal surgery. During her exam, we did a weight, measurement and full physical with our vet team. Queen has gained weight since her last weight check, which we were hoping for because she’s still underweight. Since her surgery, Queen has improved in her ability to locate and forage for food. Queen still needs many more months of time to gain weight and improve, but she is on the up and up!
February 15, 2021: Last month after Queen’s exam, it was determined that she would need a second surgery for the little bit of mineralization that’s left in her eye lens. Usually patients with cataracts only need to undergo one surgery to fully remove the cataracts, but sometimes two surgeries are needed to get it all. Queen will undergo a second surgery in the next month or so, but it will be very a very quick procedure. During that time, we will do another full exam, weight check and bloodwork. Other than that, Queen seems to be on the up and up!
March 15, 2021: Queen will undergo another surgery to remove the remaining bit of mineralization from her eye this week. After her surgery, we will have to give her eye drops daily to help her eyes heal, so we will move her down into our basement ICU to handle her more easily. She should make a full recovery after about 2 weeks, at which point we’ll move her back to the first-floor hospital.
April 15, 2021: Queen has been doing great since her last update! Her eye surgery was successful, and she is targeting her food better than she was previously. Now we are just giving her time to gain weight so she can have the chance to be considered as a release candidate later this year!
May 15, 2021: Queen was pulled for a weight and measurement exam this week as well as a blood pull. Queen had not been out of her tank since March, so she got a good shell scrub to get the algae off and a full-blown physical exam. She gained about 5 kgs since March and grew a tiny bit; she has no egg follicles so she isn’t cycling right now either. We pulled blood on her to examine and ship off for analysis. In-house bloodwork results came back great. We will have to wait a few days for the rest of the bloodwork to come back.
June 15, 2021: Queen is cruising, and we are just giving her more time to gain weight and for her bloodwork levels to improve before she receives another weight, measurement, physical exam and blood pull. Her vitamin D and calcium levels were not quite where we like to see them, so we have made some diet adjustments, increased her vitamins and her UV light exposure to help improve them.