Species Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Stranding Location: Edisto Beach, SC
Arrival Date: 1/18/2020
Weight: 18.81 (8.55kg)
Walnut was found by Susan Porth, with the Edisto Town Beach Turtle Project, and a group of pedestrians on Edisto Beach. Walnut was first seen on Monday, the 13th by this group, but unfortunately Walnut crawled back to the water before they could rescue her. They continued to look for her all week until finally seeing her again on Saturday, the 18th. Walnut was found at the waters edge immobile and on her back. They contacted South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and moved Walnut to a safe spot. SCDNR staff, Jeff Schwenter, had Susan meet him halfway in Hollywood, SC and Jeff continued the transport to the South Carolina Aquarium.
Upon admit, staff noticed that Walnut had a clear line of barnacles growing on the back half of her shell. This told us that it was likely Walnut had been floating for a while prior to her stranding. Her admit temperature was 61°F which is a little chilly, so staff cooled the room to 65°F to allow Walnut to slowly warm up. X-rays showed a ton of fecal matter in her intestines and some gas in her stomach. To get a better image we lightly sedated her and began taking a CT. The CT showed an area of the intestines that was consolidated as well as areas of gas in both the stomach and intestines. When the intestines appear heavily consolidated on imaging, there is a concern for a potential impaction. After her CT, we reversed the sedation and gave her fluids, vitamins, and antibiotics. Sea turtles can take a long time to recover from sedation and every patient is different. Walnut’s heart rate became normal and she would move when prompted but she struggled to breathe on her own. Upon intubating her to help her breathe, we noticed the folds of the tissue around her glottis (which prevents food and liquid from entering the trachea) were swollen, filled with sand and covered in a scab like material called fibrin. The damage to her glottis could have been caused from a previous hook and line injury but we weren’t entirely sure. We cleaned the area as much as we could and then intubated her. Walnut would have big bursts of energy, acting as if she was ready to breathe on her own, but when we extubated her she still wasn’t able to breathe. We found when we were able to open her glottis for her she’d have a big exhale of air like she’d been holding it in. After a couple times of her doing this, we found that it was best to keep her intubated and continue to breathe for her through the evening. On her first night as patient, she went home with staff who checked her heart rate and gave her breaths every 15 minutes until 6AM the following morning.
January 27, 2020: The following morning after admit, Walnut had again extubated herself. She was sporadically taking breaths but itwasn’t consistent. We rechecked her bloodwork, and it was not looking great; we knew she needed to stay intubated in order to keep her bloodwork from getting worse. Thankfully, Walnut was cooperating with intubation and we were able to put her on a ventilator all day. The following day, Walnut seemed to be almost back to normal! Her breaths were a few minutes apart but it was a lot more regular than in the past. We tried her in low water for the majority of the day and she did great. She swam for a couple of hours before getting tired and struggling to breathe. We pulled her for the night and let her relax in a waterbed. Finally, by the next day she was fully back to normal, she swam around and took great breaths all day. To play it safe, staff removed her from the tank before leaving for the night. By Wednesday, the 22nd, Walnut was able to be a normal turtle and has been in her tank every day since. She’s begun to turn a corner, and is doing wonderfully! We began offering food and she’s been eating it without any issues. She’s also been keeping staff and volunteers busy with all her defecations! It’s great to see the fecal passing through her intestines without any issues. Walnut has a long road ahead of her but we’re hopeful she’ll make a full recovery.
February 15, 2020: Walnut has been settling into his new temporary home well. We are slowly increasing his diet, but leaving his water level lower until he gets a little stronger. Walnut is still on antibiotic injections, and we check on his glottis every time he’s out. There’s still some fibrin there, which might take a while to fully heal. We will continue to slowly increase his diet and water level as he gets stronger.