Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: South Litchfield Beach, SC
Arrival Date: 7/1/23
Weight: 31.52 kg (69.34 lbs)
A very sick loggerhead sea turtle stranded on South Litchfield Beach and was found by a beachgoer who called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Members of Georgetown Police Department, Midway Fire Department, S.C.U.T.E and SCDNR were all key to this turtle’s rescue. This patient had a really great group of people in the community who saw to it that this turtle received care and was able to be transported to the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center™.
Debilitated Turtle Syndrome (DTS) cases are some of the more difficult because these animals have been sick for a very long time. This normally means that there are several obstacles for the turtle to overcome. In Brie’s case, she was extremely thin, had a slow heart rate, was covered in hundreds of leeches, had a low red blood cell count and many other secondary issues. She received multiple antibiotics, vitamins and fluids to start her treatment process. Brie also received an ultrasound to determine if there was any motility (meaning the contraction of the muscles that mix and propel through the GI tract) in Brie’s gut. Often times, DTS cases do not have good gut motility because their body isn’t absorbing nutrients appropriately. During this ultrasound we found that Brie did not have any movement in her gut.
In sea turtles that are not fully grown adults, we typically cannot determine sex but on ultrasound we got lucky and were able to locate ovaries —Brie’s a female! Based on Brie’s heavy leech load and low blood values, staff felt it was extremely important to reduce the number of leeches that were attached to her, quickly. Staff spent at least an hour physically removing them from her. After all treatments and exams were completed, staff did not feel comfortable putting Brie in a tank of water, so we decided on a shallow freshwater bath. This was also a good solution for the remaining leeches, as they are saltwater organisms that cannot survive in freshwater. We set her up to be comfortable for the night and regrouped in the morning to adjust treatment plans if necessary.
July 5, 2023: It was touch and go with Brie for a while. Her prognosis is still guarded, but she has made some progress over the past few days. The freshwater bath worked, and all of the leeches fell off or were removed the following day! During this time, Brie received a CT scan which showed us that her GI tract is completely filled with fecal matter. Throughout the last few days, staff were closely watching Brie’s respiration and heart rates to make sure she was not declining. One morning, her heart rate slowed significantly so we rushed her up to see the vet team. We then administered more fluids, antibiotics and intralipid. Intralipid is the most broken-down form of fat. This treatment is administered in order to give the body something to process and convert.
After this IV treatment was finished, it was time to try Brie in shallow water. Sea turtles are an aquatic species, so once they are taking good enough breaths, it’s better for them to be in water. When placed in her new temporary home, it took Brie a few minutes to orient herself but ultimately, we knew we made the right choice because she looked much better in the water. Her activity levels were higher, she was taking good breaths and she even ate a piece of shrimp for us! Later that day, she had a major blow out (a.k.a. a heavy poop) and we were so excited to see that she was starting to clear some of her GI tract. With all of those positives, we are extremely grateful. Though DTS cases are some of the hardest to rehabilitate, we’ll keep doing our very best to make sure Brie gets everything she needs!
July 20, 2023: Brie is slowly but surely making progress in her rehabilitation. Since our last update, Brie has started defecating more frequently and is getting slow diet increases. With debilitated turtles, it is important to not feed them too much right away because their digestive tracts aren’t able to handle large amounts of food. Therefore, we have to limit what we are offering in order to not cause further issues. That being said, she is eager to eat what we are offering and continues to do well with the diet increases. Brie is also getting water depth increases and has so far tolerated two new depths! We are grateful for Brie’s progress so far, but we still have a long way to go. Send all of your positive healing vibes her way; she definitely needs it!
August 15, 2023: This subadult female sea turtle continues to make strides in her recovery, her diet changes being the biggest of all! Previously, Brie was getting filet pieces of fish without skin or bones to allow her GI tract time to heal. Now, her pieces of fish have bones and skin included. Fish skin and bones have valuable nutrients that are critical in the healing process, so we are very excited that Brie’s GI tract has healed enough to receive these. Some other good news is that Brie has started taking vitamins, is in a full tank of water and was cleared to receive in-tank enrichment! Lots of great progress for Brie, but she still has a long way to go. We look forward to continue seeing all of the big strides Brie makes during her recovery!
September 15, 2023: Brie has a new “room” in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™! She now lives in TR2. You may see her taking a long nap (she does this a lot) or swimming in front of her tank window! She is gaining weight and looking healthier. Brie will be here through the winter so continue to keep an eye on her progress!
October 15, 2023: Brie is doing well in rehab! She continues to gain weight but still has a long way to go before she is ready to return home. Brie does not seem to be a morning turtle as she appears to have a “grumpy Gus” look when she is woken up by us cleaning her tank. However, she perks up when it’s time for breakfast! Come see this cutie in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™.
November 15, 2023: Brie continues to do well in rehabilitation! She comes out every month for an updated weight and for a loggerhead her size she is still skinny. This is typical for patients with debilitated turtle syndrome, and so she is getting a well-rounded diet of nutritious fish to help her gain weight gradually. Brie has enjoyed every food item we have offered her! One way we can switch up how we feed is with something we call a fish pop, which is an ice popsicle but with fish inside it! To celebrate Halloween this year, Brie received fish pops shaped like bats and a Jack-o-Lantern!
December 15, 2023: Brie was an extremely sick turtle upon admit, suffering from debilitated turtle syndrome. It takes sea turtles a long time to get sick and a long time to fully heal. We expect to see changes from our patients as they go through rehabilitation. We have started noticing some strange defecations from Brie over the past couple of weeks, which isn’t surprising as her GI tract still has a long way to go in terms of healing. On the most recent exam we found that she has gained weight and her blood values have finally improved! However, her calcium levels are still pretty low so we have increased the amount of calcium vitamins she is getting in her fish. Thankfully, she continues to take them well!
January 15, 2024: Brie continues to eat her vitamins very well, which is important as she needs calcium to put towards fully healing and restoring her shell to full strength. Debilitated turtle syndrome patients often come in so skinny and weak that their bodies have been absorbing important nutrients that they have stored in their shell and bones. When Brie first came in, the edges of her shell were soft instead of hard like they should be. As Brie continues to eat a diet specifically designed to be full of all those important nutrients she needs, and take the vitamins we offer her, her shell will grow strong and firm again! This past month we have also noticed a very important change in Brie’s defecations — instead of sandy and dispersed, her defecations are now more formed. This is a great sign that tells us that her GI tract is healing as well. You wouldn’t believe how excited all the sea turtle biologists were when Brie had her first solid fecal! It was a very exciting day for all!
February 15, 2024: Brie continues on the right track here in the Care Center. Her shell continues to become firmer with each recheck and she continues to gain a healthy amount of weight. We decided to give Brie another diet increase to make sure she stays on the right track!