Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Yawkey South Island Reserve, Georgetown, SC
Arrival Date: 7/11/20
Weight: 258 (lbs)
Angel Oak was found stranded on the Yawkey Wildlife South Island Reserve on Cat Island after sustaining a severe boat strike to her caudal carapace. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) was contacted and staff member, Charlotte Hope, responded to transport Angel Oak to the South Carolina Aquarium for emergency treatment.
When Angel Oak arrived, she was alert but fairly calm considering the circumstances. It took a large number of people to get her loaded onto a large cart with a scale to get an accurate weight and transport her to the medical facility. This big momma weighed a whopping 258 pounds! Once upstairs, her vital signs were checked, the wounds were flushed and she was given antibiotics, fluids and vitamins. Based on her size, and the fact that it is currently nesting season, an ultrasound was used to check for eggs. There were numerous shelled eggs and egg follicles seen, confirming that Angel Oak was in fact a female, and was likely in the area to nest when she was hit by the boat. Angel Oak was then moved into a shallow tank to rest overnight. She was covered in leeches and lots of other epibionts, so the first couple days we did freshwater baths to help remove them. The wound to her carapace was not very fresh, and there is likely a lot of dead bone and tissue that will need to be debrided once she is more stable.
July 15, 2020: The day after Angel Oak was moved into her shallow tank, she dropped a large number of the eggs. We will continue to monitor her and watch for more eggs. We are limiting our handling of Angel Oak due to the severity of the fractures on her shell, and the fact that we don’t want to jostle her while she may still have eggs that could rupture. We are concerned about the injury to her vertebrae and spinal cord, as she appears to have limited use of her rear flippers. Once she is more stable, and appears to have dropped all of her eggs, we will take her up for a CT scan to assess the extent of the damage to her spine. We have begun offering Angel Oak a few piece of fish daily, but so far she is uninterested. Lack of interest in food is not uncommon for a female turtle during nesting season, or with severe injuries. In the meantime, we will make sure she is staying hydrated with fluids and vitamins!
September 15, 2020: Angel Oak is showing signs of improvement. She is now swimming in a full tank of water and is much more active. We will still need to do further diagnostics to better assess the extent of spinal damage, but we have noticed slight movement in her rear flippers, which is a positive sign. Her prognosis is still guarded, but our fingers are crossed for a positive outcome!
October 15, 2020: Angel Oak has continued to swim well in a full tank! She has proven to be a picky eater and will mainly eat only mackerel or salmon. We are evaluating when we will be able to try her in a deeper tank to better evaluate her ability to use her rear flippers, but it will be a while before we do that.
December 15, 2020: Angel Oak is doing well, and in the next couple of weeks we plan to move her to our deepest tank to test her ability to swim at that depth and use her flippers. The day of her move, we plan to get a good look at her old carapace fractures and debride any remaining dead bone. We are seeing lots of healthy tissue underneath where the bone has already come out, so we are hoping that the rest is healing well too.
January 15, 2021: We have not had a chance to move Angel Oak to a larger tank yet due to some staffing constraints, but we do have an exam scheduled this month to look her over. If everything checks out during her exam, then we will move her to her new home in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery the same day! If not, we will keep her in the ICU located in the basement until we are sure she is healthy enough and ready for the move. Stay tuned for more updates!
February 15, 2021: This month, Angel Oak was finally moved to Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery! It was an extreme undertaking to move her to the large tank given her body size and weight, as well as the size of the tank. She spent a few days acclimating. She didn’t eat and was very splashy! But a couple of days after the move she began to eat normally again. She is still a bit splashy so we have covered the window of the tank. Covering the large window on the tank limits her interaction and exposure to activity outside of the tank. Limiting this exposure tends to calm the patients when they are exhibiting stress-related behaviors (pacing, splashing, constant activity, frequent breathing). We have lowered the water level a bit to minimize the amount of water she will splash on the floor and surrounding tanks. After a couple of weeks in this set up, if she seems to have settled in, we will raise the water level and/or remove the window cover periodically.
March 15, 2021: Angel Oak has caused quite the splash (literally) upstairs in Sea Turtle Recovery. Staff and interns are constantly watching their backs because we never know when she might push some water out of the tank as she surfaces to take a breath. She is scheduled to receive a blood pull, exam, measurements and to be tagged in the next week or so. While she’s out, we will check on her boat-strike injury to see how it’s healing. We are evaluating her as a release candidate in the near future. Stay tuned for developments!