Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Stranding Location: Springmaid Pier, Myrtle Beach, SC
Arrival Date: 7/14/23
Weight: 1.08 kg (2.4 lbs)
On July 14, a very tiny Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was caught on hook and line by a fisherman at Springmaid Pier. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the SCUTE turtle team were vital in ensuring this turtle made it to the Sea Turtle Care Center™ safely.
Upon intake, radiographs were taken to locate the positioning of the hook and its approximate size. After radiographs and preliminary bloodwork, Gouda was sedated, and an oral hook removal was attempted. The hook was so large, and so deeply embedded in the esophagus, that our veterinary team was unable to retrieve it orally. Vet staff gave Gouda pain medication to help with comfort level until a surgery attempt was feasible. A surgery date was put on the schedule for the near future. Based on the turtle’s low energy levels, staff felt that the best set up for Gouda would be a dry dock. This is because sea turtles breathe air, and when they are lethargic sometimes it is hard for them to gain enough energy to get to the surface to breathe.
July 17, 2023: Today was surgery day! Vet staff started the procedure by taking more radiographs to confirm the position of the hook, so that the surgical incision on Gouda’s neck would be as close to the hook as possible. Sea turtle patients are anesthetized for surgical procedures, just like doctors do for humans who undergo surgery. While in surgery, we discovered that the hook had punctured through the esophagus which was why oral removal was not possible. Once the hook was successfully removed, we noticed that the hook was almost as big as Gouda’s head! It’s crazy to think how such a small turtle could swallow such a large hook.
It took Gouda a few hours to fully wake up after their surgery but, by that afternoon, this tiny turtle was awake and swimming in a kiddie pool! Sea turtles have adapted to spend the vast majority of their lives in water, and if the patient’s energy levels seem high enough, getting them in water safely and quickly is the goal.
July 20, 2023: Gouda has been recovering from surgery. Following surgery, we wait to offer food to the patient for a few days to allow the esophagus time to heal. Gouda gobbled up the fish after being fed for the first time. In the days since surgery, Gouda’s energy level increased, so this tiny turtle was given closely observed swim time in a half tank of water. This allows us to monitor Gouda’s energy and determine when this patient is ready to graduate from a kiddie pool to a tank full time. Stay tuned!
August 15, 2023: Gouda has had gradual diet increases, and even graduated from the kiddie pool to a full tank! A few weeks ago, Gouda had a surgical procedure to remove the fish hook that was embedded in the esophagus. Since then, staff have been keeping a close eye on the incision site and it continues to heal nicely. Next week, a physical exam will be performed to determine if the sutures can be removed!
September 15, 2023: Tiny Gouda was moved up to Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery ™ this month! Gouda received an exam, bloodwork and was tagged. Staff is waiting on bloodwork results to determine if s/he is ready to go back to the ocean. Fingers crossed!