Bella | South Carolina Aquarium


Jul 11


Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

Stranding Location: North Cape Island, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, SC
Arrival Date: 6/24/2020
Age: Subadult
Weight: 32.66 kgs (71 lbs)

Case History

Bella was found stranded on North Cape Island by U.S Fish and Wildlife biologists, who monitor sea turtle and shore bird nesting in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. After observing that she was covered in epibionts and very lethargic, she was likely a debilitated turtle. Biologists contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and boated Bella to a dock to be picked up by SCDNR transporter Abby Chaney. Abby then transported Bella the rest of the way to South Carolina Aquarium for emergency treatment.


Bella’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 and flippers, along with lots of parasitic marine leeches. Bella received a thorough exam and a blood draw. Bloodwork results indicated that Bella was dehydrated, anemic, and had low blood proteins. Bella 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. Bella 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, helping to circulate the red blood cells through the bloodstream and deliver oxygen throughout the body more effectively. Bella’s heart rate was strong but low, which is what we usually see with DTS patients. Bella was started on antibiotics to help combat any opportunistic secondary infections that can occur because of a lowered immune system. She was also started on calcium injections to help replenish her calcium store. DTS patients typically have a soft shell due to the calcium depletion, so the injections help them rebuild and replenish it. After her fluids were administered, Bella was set up in a shallow water tank with low salinity to rest comfortably 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.


July 1, 2020: Bella was very quiet and lethargic the first few days after admit which is to be expected. She received fluid therapy, and perked up after a few days. We began to offer food and she ate immediately, which is a great sign! To help give her additional support we administered partial parenteral nutrition (PPN), which is essentially sugars, fats and carbs in liquid form that are given intravenously. PPN is helpful because she does not have to digest it through her gastrointestinal tract and her body will absorb extra nutrition immediately. We had to do several freshwater dips to help remove the leeches and leech eggs that were attached to her. We will continue to increase her water level slowly over the next couple of weeks and slowly reintroduce food to her. Send good vibes for Bella, please!

July 15, 2020: Bella recently received a simple physical exam during one of her normal injection treatments. She has already gained weight, and her shell is more solid than when she arrived. She is about halfway done with her treatments and we are happy with her progress. She is feisty and loves to eat crumbs from all over the tank!  

August 15, 2020: Recently Bella made it to another rehab milestone: a full tank! She is doing fantastic these days. She is incredibly curious so everyone has to watch out for her bite-y disposition when feeding and cleaning her tank. Let’s hope this trend for Bella continues! 

September 15, 2020: Bella has been doing quite well in her new home in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery these past few weeks. We found caryospora in her poop recently, and we have just started treating her with a dewormer medication. Caryopsora is a common gut parasite that in low numbers is common and not majorly harmful. In high concentrations, this parasite can cause GI complications and make the turtle sick. The treatment for caryospora is easy to put in their food once a week for a few weeks at a time. and usually kills off the parasite in one round of treatment. Bella just started her treatment plan for this, so we will continue to monitor the parasite load monthly by collecting and examining her poop.

October 15, 2020: In our last update, we mentioned that Bella was being treated for an intestinal parasite called Caryospora. Bella finished up her treatment and the past few fecals have been clear of the parasite! We will continue to collect and run fecals on her monthly to make sure that the parasite is gone for good. For now, she is getting stronger weekly and is starting to put on weight, which are great signs that she is improving!

December 15, 2020: Bella has been doing really well in her rehabilitation. She is steadily gaining weight and growing. We have been offering her fish popsicles as enrichment to mentally stimulate her and change up the way she has to eat her food. She really interacts positively with her fish pops and chows down on them pretty fast!

January 15, 2021: Bella continues to improve, gain weight and be an all-around easy patient! We have been enriching her regularly through fish pops but within this last month, Bella was offered some live blue crab! Blue crab is a natural food source for the loggerhead sea turtle and in our experience, one of the most common prey items for them in the wild. We offered Bella several blue crabs over the last month, and she has gobbled them all up right away. This is great to see for multiple reasons: It shows us that Bella is able to forage for live prey, is able to see, track and target that live prey and she is able to digest it properly, which means her gastrointestinal tract is working great! We are happy with Bella’s progress and hope she can be released sometime this spring!   

February 15, 2021: When Bella arrived for rehabilitation last year she had a gut parasite called caryospora. This is a mostly harmless parasite that resides in the GI tract and is seen in the turtle’s fecal matter. Caryospora is only harmful in extremely high amounts and can cause GI upset and, in severe cases, neurological issues. Bella had low level amounts of the parasite in her GI, so we were able to easily and quickly treat it with a de-wormer shortly after admit. We have been monitoring Bella’s fecals for the parasite each month to make sure it is not returning and so far so good! We have not seen any caryospora in Bella’s fecals since we treated her, so it is safe to say she is likely in the clear. This is just one more positive step towards her release requirements!

March 15, 2021: Bella has been status quo with no new changes to report. She is scheduled to get a blood pull, an exam and we will also be tagging her while she is out. She hasn’t been cleared for release yet, but we are evaluating her to see if she can be a release candidate in the near future. Stay tuned for developments!

April 15, 2021: Big news for Bella! Bella passed her pre-release exam and was released back into the big blue at Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville, Florida. During this time of year, our local water temperatures are too chilly to release turtles locally.

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