Pearl | South Carolina Aquarium


Apr 14


Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Stranding Location: MacKay Creek, Hilton Head Island, SC

Arrival Date: 4/9/2017

Age: Juvenile

Weight: 30 lbs

Case History

Pearl was found by a fisherman in MacKay Creek near Hilton Head Island. Pearl’s right front flipper was entangled in monofilament line at the base of the limb. It was noticeably swollen, bleeding and lacked a sufficient blood supply. Realizing this turtle was in trouble, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) was notified. Michelle Pate, SCDNR Sea Turtle Coordinator, transported this patient to us for treatment. Pearl is one of the largest greens we have treated as she is nearly 5 times larger than the juvenile greens we have admitted this year.


Upon arrival, Pearl was quickly triaged and received a thorough physical exam, radiographs and blood pull. Due to the lack of blood circulation caused by the constriction of the monofilament line, some of the soft tissue has become necrotic (dead). Pearl’s flipper was flushed, and loose dead tissue and debris were removed. Silver sulfadiazine cream, a silver based antimicrobial ointment, was gently applied. Based on radiographs, the bones in the flipper look healthy and no fractures present. Pearl’s body condition and blood work looked great, and she received fluids and vitamins for re-hydration. Pearl was started on a course of antibiotics to help prevent any further infection from the entanglement injury as well as pain management drugs. Most likely, a good portion of Pearl’s flipper will be lost due to the damage caused by the entanglement, but we will do everything we can to save the healthy part of it.


April 12, 2017: Pearl was moved into a tank the morning after admit. Pearl has been observed using the right front flipper while swimming and will receive weekly wound treatments to aid in the healing of the flipper. Pain management drugs will be given as needed, and her diet will be increased slowly.

May 5, 2017: Pearl is doing much better overall! Pearl is receiving Tramadol, a pain management drug, daily and is currently on 2 different antibiotics to help combat any infection from the injured flipper. Along with all of her meds, Pearl is receiving cold laser therapy, which promotes healing by reducing inflammation while also promoting blood flow to the injured area. Pearl’s soft tissue on her flipper is filling in nicely with fibrin, a hard scab material, and we have observed her using the flipper to swim. Pearl also has quite the appetite and is getting fed 1.5 lbs of veggies daily! Pearl is getting stronger every day! Pearl will receive routine physical exams by our vet team to make sure the flipper is healing correctly.

May 19, 2017: Pearl’s right front flipper is healing incredibly well! We have been doing cold laser therapy for the past month and have noticed a significant change in her flipper. Most of the dead tissue is no longer present and the swelling in that flipper has greatly reduced. Pearl has a strong appetite and loves to eat dandelion leaves like spaghetti noodles! Pearl is almost finished with her antibiotics, and we are monitoring her for any change in behavior that might signify the flipper is causing her pain, such as decreased interest in her diet or lethargy. Sea Turtle Care Center (STCC) staff has been really impressed with how well Pearl is healing.

June 5, 2017: Pearl continues to progress and is healing well. Healthy granulation tissue is present on the flipper and she no longer favors that limb. She continues to have a voracious appetite and will eat any type of veggies offered to her. Pearl is a perfect example of how well sea turtles can heal, especially when given medical assistance, good water quality and time. Staff is very proud to see how far she has come in a relatively short amount of time.

June 15, 2017: Pearl’s right front flipper is healing incredibly well! Each week there is more healthy pink granulation tissue and her use of that flipper continues to improve. Pearl is a good eater and is receiving over a pound of veggies in her daily diet!

July 3, 2017: Staff noticed a pink mass on Pearl’s plastron and upon further investigation from Dr. Boylan, he visually confirmed it as fibropapilloma. A sample was taken and sent to a lab for DNA testing to confirm. Fibropapilloma virus is similar to a herpes virus. Many young green sea turtles suffer from it in the wild. Tumors resembling pink, grey and white cauliflower grow on the soft tissues of the turtle’s body. Occasionally, these tumors can grow on the eyes, carapace and plastron. Research has shown that the virus thrives in warm waters, so we have begun cooling the water in Pearl’s tank to minimize the growth of this tumor. Pearl has also undergone treatment to freeze the tumor to prevent it from growing any larger. This virus is thought to be carried for many months or even years before expressing itself externally and affecting the animal. Luckily for Pearl, it is only a small area on her plastron, and she has not lost any of her appetite or charisma! She searches for things in her to tank to scratch her shell on, like she would on rocks in the wild. She eats over a pound of veggies a day! She has won the heart of many staff members and volunteers!

July 15, 2017: Pearl has been moved to a new tank in the Sea Turtle Hospital to accommodate a chiller. This will cool the water temperature. Fibropapilloma virus does not grow well in temperatures under 78 degrees. She has adjusted well to her new surroundings and larger tank! She loves all the room she has to swim and is still finding places to scratch her shell. She continues to eat everything we offer her. Pearl is due for a wound check on her right front flipper next week to assess the healing process. There is no mistaking it though – Pearl is strong and feisty and not afraid to use her flipper!

August 1, 2017: Pearl continues to progress. Her damaged flipper heals more and more each day. Her tank water is holding at 77 degrees Fahrenheit to inhibit growth of the fibropapilloma cells.

August 15, 2017: Pearl is loving the backscratcher that a STCC intern made for her! It’s good for Pearl to scratch her shell on something each day to help knock off barnacles and old keratin. It’s very important for a healthy shell! She continues to eat all of her food each day and is doing well!

September 15, 2017: Pearl continues to progress. Staff is monitoring the growths of fibropapilloma with monthly check-ups.

October 1, 2017: Some of the pap growths on Pearl were frozen off, and her overall body condition was assessed at her latest check-up. She is in great body condition and the fibropapilloma growths do not seem to be getting any bigger or more prominent. Here’s to hoping she will continue to make a smooth recovery!

October 15, 2017: Pearl underwent a CT scan to check for fibropapilloma tumors. These scans are undergoing careful review since it is extremely difficult to see the soft tissue tumors inside the body. Otherwise, Pearl has been eating like a champ and using the entangled flipper more and more each day!

November 1, 2017: Pearl was sedated last week for our STCC staff to check for any new fibropappiloma (FP) lesions or a regrowth of any lesions that were removed by Dr. Boylan. Pearl had no regrowths on this last check and we will continue to monitor her with monthly exams. The results from the CT scan she had a few weeks ago are still pending. Hopefully Pearl will continue on this trend and be FP lesion free in the next few months!

November 15, 2017: Pearl has not had any new FP lesions over the last two months, and are hoping that this trend will continue. Pearl continues to receive about a pound of veggies a day, and her injured flipper looks great!

December 1, 2017: Pearl continues to do well. After undergoing several cryotherapy sessions to freeze off the fibropapilloma growths, none have grown back. We will continue to monitor them in the weeks to come. She eats tons of veggies every day and continues to test staff and volunteers by spitting out her vitamins every day.

December 15, 2017: Pearl was examined by the vet Dr. Shane Boylan this week and he froze one fibropapilloma regrowth between her nose and her eye.There are no other re-growths anywhere on her body, nor did we see any new growths. Pearl was also fully examined to asses her body condition. She has gained weight and overall looks to be in great health! Once Pearl has zero regrowth of any of her FP tumors, we will begin assessing her for release.

January 15, 2018: Pearl did just fine over the holiday season and subsequent winter storm. Later this month, we will do another physical exam and check for FP regrowths. Pearl continues to enjoy her pound of veggies a day!

February 1, 2018: We are continuing to monitor Pearl each month for any FP regrowths. Otherwise, she is doing great and enjoying her veggies! Want to see more of Pearl while helping out our other patients? Check out our new program, Sea Turtle Guardian.

February 15, 2018: Pearl is doing great! She continues to enjoy her veggies, and we will be pulling her for another FP recheck next week!

March 1, 2018: Pearl was pulled for another FP recheck this week and as far as we can tell, there have been no new regrowths. Pearl is now up to 36 lbs and is one sassy turtle.

March 15, 2018: Exciting news for Pearl! Pearl received a pre-release exam, including blood work and getting tagged by SCDNR. She’s now in the process of being medically cleared for release back into the sea! Additionally, Pearl’s FP tumors have regressed and she has shown no new regrowths over the last several months. Her injured front flipper has healed up incredibly well, and we couldn’t be more proud of her! Stay tuned for another update!

April 1, 2018: Exciting news! Pearl has been medically cleared for release, and we currently in the process of setting up her release details. Way to go, Pearl!

Release Date

April 3, 2018

Release Location

Washington Oaks State Parks

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