Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)
Stranding Location: Joint Base Charleston, North Charleston, South Carolina
Arrival Date: 7/12/2021
Weight: 16.9 kg (37 lbs)
Howlite was caught on hook-and-line in the Cooper River on Joint Base Charleston. When the fisherman saw that they had swallowed the hook, they used a dip net to pull Howlite out of the water and promptly contacted South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). SCDNR technician, Cami Duquet, responded to the call and transported Howlite to the Sea Turtle Care Center™ for hook removal.
Cami immediately noticed an older boat strike on her carapace and notified admitting staff before she transported her to the Sea Turtle Care Center. Howlite had already been through a lot for such a young sea turtle! At admit, Howlite was very alert and active. The boat strike was packed with pluff mud, making it hard to assess how severe the damage to her shell was. Admitting Care Center™ staff got a weight and took an x-ray to determine the location of the hook. Luckily, the hook was located high enough in the esophagus that they were hopeful it would not require surgery to be removed. After the x-ray, staff flushed all of the pluff mud out of the propeller wounds to better assess the damage caused by the boat strike. There were two deep wounds across the top of the carapace, and the lower portion of the shell behind the third strike was missing. Once the shell was cleaned up, they were sedated for CT to better access the boat strike injury and to remove the fishing hook. Luckily for Howlite, after several attempts to remove the hook non-surgically, Dr. Shane was able to remove the circle hook with minimal trauma to her esophagus. While under sedation, the CT scan was conducted, fluids with vitamins were administered and antibiotics were given. Howlite was quiet but alert and was left to rest comfortably in a padded foam bin for the rest of the evening.
July 15, 2021: Howlite was moved into a shallow water tank the following morning after admit. The CT scan indicated that the boat strike did injure Howlite’s spine and, while they currently have minimal use of those rear flippers, they have deep pain response. Thankfully, they are defecating normally. We will continue to assess the wounds as they heal and the swelling reduces. We are working on a treatment plan with the goal of helping her regain normal flipper use again so that they may be considered a release candidate.
September 15, 2021: Howlite was recently moved up into our exercise tank in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery on the first floor. We wanted to better evaluate his ability to use his rear flipper and control his buoyancy at a deeper tank depth. So far, we have seen improvements in his ability to stay flat on the bottom, and he has no issues diving to forage for food. As long as he’ll tolerate it, we are also doing physical therapy with him to see if that helps improve his ability to have full use of his rear flippers while he’s in the tank.
October 15, 2021: Howlite has continued to show subtle improvement in their ability to use their rear flippers. Staff has observed them resting flat on the bottom, able to dive normally to forage for food and have not seen significant buoyancy issues in the exercise tank. The next step is try Howlite in our deepest tank to see how they are able to swim and maintain buoyancy.
January 15, 2022: Howlite has become a guest favorite in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™. Howlite is cruising around our deepest tank with ease and is very active. We will be pulling them for a weight and exam later this month. Come check out Howlite next time you visit the Aquarium!
February 15, 2022: This past month, Howlite gotten a new “room” assignment: tank 6! No need to fret, you can still see this feisty turtle up in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery≈. They are settling well into their new tank. Prior to the move, staff noticed that Howlite had been a little more caudally buoyant over the last few weeks and decided to get another CT scan to see if there were any changes since the last scan. Diagnostic imaging showed that there were some changes to the spine. Scans also showed that Howlite had a lot of fecal material in the GI tract. Staff is continuing to monitor Howlite’s fecal output and are keeping a close eye out for any behavioral changes.
March 15, 2022: Howlite has hit a bump in their recovery and their prognosis is guarded. Their buoyancy disorder has become more prominent, and they are pooping less. We did have to give Howlite a few enemas to help move things along, and we have seen some improvement in that area. We have given them a new piece of enrichment to help them “level out” and hopefully be a bit more comfortable. Sometimes treatments take a while to take effect. As of now, we are just waiting to see how they do before we pursue a new avenue of treatment.
April 15, 2022: Over the last month, Howlite has received a CT scan to see if there are any more changes to their carapace (top shell) and spine as they continue to heal from their boat strike injury. Diagnostic imaging shows that there is likely compression on the spinal cord which is contributing to a slow down in both digestion and rear flipper movement. Howlite’s diet has been slightly lowered, and they are on a weekly feeding schedule instead of being fed daily. This has helped improve the frequency of their defecations and some resolution in buoyancy. At this point, we are looking at options, such as a weight belt, to aid in their ability to rest on the bottom of the tank. Howlite will likely be unreleasable, so we are reevaluating their long-term treatment plan moving forward.
May 15, 2022: With the reduced feeding schedule, we have seen an improvement with the amount of defecations that Howlite has been having. They received some food enrichment this past week: a blue crab! You could say Howlite loved it… they gobbled it up before it even made it to the bottom of the tank! We are still working on the best “weight belt” option for Howlite. There will be more to come on this in the near future!
June 15, 2022: We made some big decisions for Howlite’s care this past month. Howlite is non-releasable due to their bubble butt syndrome. We have begun target training Howlite to prepare them for a home at another aquarium in the future. Howlite caught on to the target training quickly, and now they eat their full diet daily during their training session. Even with the switch from the reduced feeding schedule back to a normal daily schedule, Howlite is defecating regularly — we are always monitoring for changes in this. Howlite has also been fitted for a weighted wetsuit vest in order to make them neutrally buoyant to correct their orientation while swimming. The wetsuit is in the final stages of construction. After some fine tuning, it’ll hopefully be in use by our next update!
July 15, 2022: Howlite’s wetsuit weight jacket is complete! A couple of weeks ago, we did the final fitting and tested out varying amounts of weight in Howlite’s jacket. After much fine-tuning, we found the perfect amount of weight to make Howlite neutrally buoyant. Howlite can now swim in a normal orientation in the water column, rest on the bottom of the tank and swim normally to the surface to take a breath. We can only imagine how much more comfortable Howlite is now that they are in a normal body orientation. We have found that Howlite is defecating more regularly, is acting more alert and active when awake and even seems to be sleeping better! Making this wetsuit weight jacket for Howlite was truly a team effort, and we cannot thank those involved enough for helping make Howlite’s quality of life even better.
August 15, 2022: Howlite continues to do very well overall. They have been officially declared non-releasable, and we are in the process of finding Howlite a home at another aquarium. The buoyancy problems that Howlite is dealing with are incurable, so the best course of action is to find a long-term home for them. In the meantime, Howlite is in Tank 6 in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery™. We continue to target feed Howlite and check their skin and shell monthly for abrasions from the weight suit. Howlite has gained weight since arrival last summer and is now on a maintenance diet to keep them at a healthy weight throughout their stay. If you visit the Aquarium, look into the back of the hospital and you may get a glimpse of Howlite swimming with their weight suit on!
September 15, 2022: Howlite received another physical exam a couple of weeks ago to monitor their weight, size and skin/shell health. Whenever you have an animal using weighted buoyancy assistance, you must always be careful of how their skin and shell is being affected longterm. A full or partial body suit may cause skin lesions around the flippers, while weights glued directly to the shell may cause keratin buildup or abscessing from water retention under the glue. Regular physical exams on bubble butt patients are important to mitigate these possible issues. Thankfully, the weight suit is working well and not causing any abrasions or lesions on Howlite’s skin or shell! Howlite gained some weight, and grew a tiny bit. We are continuing the search for a permanent home.
October 15, 2022: Overall, there are no new updates on Howlite. It may be difficult to see Howlite in Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery due to their tank location and the fact that that they can rest flat on the bottom now. We continue to look for a permanent home for Howlite, but until then, we will enjoy caring for this feisty turtle!
November 15, 2022: Howlite continues to look good at their monthly weight and measurements. They have gained a little more weight than we would like, so we have started using the “exercise” mode on Howlite’s tank. The exercise tank has specialty jets that allow us to create a strong, current-like flow throughout the tank. A few times a week, we encourage Howlite to be a little more active when we switch the tank into exercise mode. Overall, they seem to be curious during these sessions and a little more active.
November 21, 2022: Over the last couple of days, we have noticed a change in Howlite’s buoyancy. They have been fairly caudally buoyant, even while wearing their wetsuit. Staff decided it was necessary to pull them for another exam and radiographs. After a radiograph and CT scan, the diagnostic imaging showed us that there was not an abnormal amount of gas or feces in their GI tract. It was decided that the best course of treatment would to be to add more weights, since there were no other presenting issues. We will keep a close eye on Howlite for any changes and adjust as needed. If you see Howlite, make sure to send them good vibes for level swimming!
January 15, 2023: Howlite continues to do well in rehab. They get weekly exercise sessions and are still being target trained. We are still looking for a permanent home for them!
February 15, 2023: Howlite was pulled for their monthly weight and measurement a couple of weeks ago. They have continued to gain a healthy amount of weight and grow. As you know, Howlite wears a weighted wetsuit, but their current one is starting to fray so the team is working together to sew a new one! If you see them in a new tank top next month, make sure to tell them they still look very cute!
March 15, 2023: Howlite has been an interesting case, especially over these past few weeks. Turtle cases with bubble butt syndrome can be tricky because you don’t fully know how their wounds are going to heal, how densities will change, how their bones will shift and how their nerves will be affected. As a juvenile sea turtle, Howlite still has a lot of growing to do which makes all of those things even more challenging, just because there are a lot of changing variables. Last week, we noticed a big change in Howlite’s buoyancy. They were resting almost entirely vertically and were rarely able to rest flat on the bottom. In previous situations when Howlite was vertical, it was typically because they were constipated which causes a buildup of gas in the GI tract. That was not the case this time, because they have been defecating fairly frequently. We also noticed that their current weight suit needed an upgrade. The material that the suit is made of works really well because it is soft enough to not agitate Howlite’s skin or shell, but it can stretch out over time and cause shifting. The suit had stretched a bit and needed an upgrade to keep the weight in position to correct Howlite’s buoyancy. While a new suit is being constructed, we decided to remove the old wet suit to give them a little break since it wasn’t actually keeping their hind end down. Without the weighted wetsuit, Howlite may look a little bit uncomfortable while they try to navigate their tank. The new and improved suit is in the works though and should be ready soon.
April 15, 2023: Howlite has a weight suit on again! It is not their new one yet, but we are making adjustments to the new one so that it works best for what Howlite needs. In the meantime, we made small adjustments to their old suit so that it is more functional. Howlite continues to have a big appetite and is eating really well!
May 15, 2023: Howlite continues to be a great eater! They have started defecating more frequently, which is good. We continue to look for a permanent home for Howlite. Keep your fingers crossed that another facility will fall in love with this little turtle as much as we have!