Just weeks after the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) posted on Facebook about the influx of leatherback sea turtles to the Lowcountry, SCDNR and South Carolina Aquarium staff found themselves face-to-face with one of these gentle giants.
On Saturday around 2:30 pm, our veterinary team received a call from SCDNR that they had discovered a leatherback near Hunting Island with a crab pot line wrapped around her front flipper. After they brought the estimated 1000-pound turtle to shore, Hunting Island State Park rangers kept vigil as our veterinary assistant, Whitney Daniel, and our standby veterinarian, Dr. Jose Biascoechea, made the two-hour trek to assess the situation.
Once Whitney and Dr. Biascoechea arrived at the scene, they could see the entanglement was severe. The entire end of the flipper was dead from lack of blood supply, indicating that the leatherback had been living with this injury for weeks. The team had to decide whether to treat her in the field or transport her two hours to our Sea Turtle Care Center. “Based on our experience with Yawkey and Mariner, leatherbacks do not do well in a rehabilitative center,” said Whitney. “They are extremely large, pelagic animals, meaning they’re used to swimming long distances in very deep, open water. For that reason, we decided it was best to treat her right then and there.” After covering the leatherback’s head with a damp towel to soothe her, Dr. Biascoechea and Whitney immediately set to work removing the taut rope. They amputated the dead portion of her flipper, cleaned and stitched up the wound and administered antibiotics to help stave off infection.
Upon closer examination, the team noticed she had two flipper tags from Trinidad, a huge nesting area for leatherbacks, indicating that she’s part of their research group. We’re glad we were able to help this mama turtle, so that she can continue to further this magnificent endangered species.
After treatment, the team helped steer her back toward the water. “She knew exactly what she needed to do. She was ready.” said Whitney. “All we had to do was give her a little help, and she just took off into the water.”
A special thank you to the Hunting State Park rangers and SCDNR for helping us treat this leatherback sea turtle and return her to the wild.