Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Stranding Location: Ellis Creek, James Island, SC
Arrival Date: 9/15/2020
Weight: 31 lbs (14.1 kg)
Elvin was found in Ellis Creek by two helpful citizens, Kimberly and her son Sebastian. They noticed the turtle floating at the surface, struggling and unable to dive. In addition to the buoyancy problem, they noticed that the turtle was missing its front, right flipper. The wound was mostly healed, but they knew he needed medical attention, so they contacted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Charlotte Hope from SCDNR then transported the turtle to the Sea Turtle Care Center (STCC) that evening for immediate treatment.
Upon arrival in the hospital, we noticed numerous large tumors on the ventral side of Elvin’s body. These tumors are the result of a virus called Fibropapillomatosis. There are large tumors in his inguinal area (near the hip join) of the rear flippers and a few smaller ones under the front flippers. Fortunately, there do not appear to be any tumors around the eyes, which are known to negatively affect their vision. Elvin is also in decent body condition, so he appears not to have been so debilitated by the virus that he could not forage for food. The buoyancy, however, did indicate that he had a good amount of GI gas and/or fecal built up, which is not uncommon in immune compromised animals. We immediately took x-rays to look for any obvious internal tumors, which can be fatal. Fortunately, we did not see any obvious internal tumors, but our suspicions were confirmed that Elvin is severely constipated and has a large amount of gas in the digestive tract. This usually improves with antibiotics to support their immune system and by getting the animal properly hydrated with fluids. When Elvin is more stable, we will perform surgery to remove the tumors completely as part of his rehabilitation process.
September 16, 2020: Elvin was kept in a padded bin with shallow water overnight to build his strength. The next morning we took a CT scan for better internal diagnostic imaging. Once the sedation had worn off, we tried Elvin in a shallow tank down in the basement ICU. As we suspected, he was very buoyant at first, so we kept the water level low enough that he could comfortably lift his head to breath. He was calm but alert. By late in the afternoon, Elvin had already begun to defecate and pass enough gas that he was able to get underwater and rest on the bottom. As of now, he is showing no interest in food, but his digestive tract still has a lot of clearing out to do, so we will continue with his fluids to keep him hydrated until he is eating well.
October 15, 2020: Lots has happened with Elvin since our last update! Last week, Elvin finally started eating, which is awesome! He has been on fluid therapy for the last several weeks to help keep him hydrated until he started eating. Once he started eating, our vet staff decided it was time to start the process of removing his FP tumors. On Monday of this week, Elvin was sedated and had the first round of tumors removed from the area of soft tissue around the rear flipper. He will be dry docked and monitored closely over the next few days, and it might be awhile before he is ready to go back into his tank. Once the surgical sites heal, we will schedule the next procedure. Elvin will likely have several procedures to remove all of his tumors and it will take a few months to get them all removed successfully. Send Elvin all the good vibes!
December 15, 2020: Last month, Elvin had his second surgery to remove the FP tumors around his flippers and neck. There were a few very large tumors, in addition to numerous small ones, that were removed this time. Elvin did lose a bit of blood, and we had to keep him drydocked with compression bandages for a few days while to surgical sites healed enough to put him back in water. We started him back in shallow water as he regained his strength and began eating again. He is now eating great and swimming well in his tank. Unlike some of our other turtles, Elvin loves his red bell peppers and is finally starting to branch out and eat his lettuce. We will be monitoring his FP tumor removal sites for healing, and any new growth.
January 15, 2021: Elvin had a recent exam to assess the healing of the last surgical tumor removal sites. We’re happy to report that all of the sites have healed fantastically, and we did not observe any regrowth or new FP tumors. Elvin has been eating well but has had some slight buoyancy issues due to some GI gas that was verified radiographically. This is not uncommon with immunocompromised green turtles who are eating a diet with increasing volumes of vegetation. It often resolves on its own. He is able to dive for food and swim calmly, so we will monitor it and intervene only if necessary.