The turtles had a visitor last week, and although Dr. Harms may not think of himself as “Santa” he did show up with a few elves, two cold-stunned turtles and a big bag of “toys.” And he had a list – a very long list of boys and girls he wanted to check up on. It was his last scheduled vet visit to the hospital for this year and the “workshop” was busy from early morning until very late in the afternoon.
First on his list was minor surgery for our big loggerhead lady “Sunny.” An old injury to the rear of her carapace left her with a small hook-like protrusion that often snagged her flipper. And if it snagged her flipper it also meant that she might get it caught on other things once she was released. Sunny was pulled from her tank, weighed and wheeled into surgery where she was anesthetized just enough to send her into a sweet dreamlike state. While the staff kept her safe and secure Dr. Harms used his highly technical equipment (a small saw blade) to remove and smooth the offending piece of carapace. Soon Sunny was out of surgery, looking great and recovering in shallow water for a few hours before going back to her home in the big house.
While that was happening Sick Bay was buzzing with activity. We already had the New England Kemp’s in various stages of what looks like a very slow and long recovery. Except for a few they are still not eating the way we hoped they would, even though we are spending hours crawling on the floor coaxing food into them twice a day. Dr. Harms added a small green and a mid-size loggerhead to the mix, “local” cold stuns from the Cape Lookout area. Dr. Harrison, a colleague of Dr. Harms was occupied with blood work and exams on all of the patients in Sick Bay. And our staff was assisting her, at the same time bathing and treating each of them as well as making sure their tanks (which go through three water changes in the course of a day) were sparkling clean. And, we still have a whole contingent of hatchlings waiting (actually, mostly eating) in the wings for a ride to the Gulf Stream! Since “Santa’s” visit we’ve added a few more greens to our Sick Bay – it’s getting tight in there and it’s still early in the winter!
Out in Sea Turtle Bay our volunteers were working on another part of Dr. Harm’s list. He had three large turtles he wanted to examine, including getting updated weights and some fresh blood. “Sawyer,” back a few weeks ago from cataract surgery was his first visit. He’s looking good, and apparently seeing a lot better based on how quickly he snarfs down his breakfast every morning. “Nancy” and “Eclipse” were next, and after draining their tanks they were wheeled to the scale and then asked to donate some blood. Nancy would like you to know that she’s not heavy, she just “carries her weight in her hips!” Eclipse, the hospital’s Miss Congeniality was quite cooperative during her land-based adventure. For a turtle as large as her that was the best Christmas gift we could have gotten.
It was a very long and physically rough day, but you won’t find volunteers more dedicated to doing whatever it takes to care for these magnificent creatures than the entire staff of our hospital. In the end Dr. Harms was very pleased with the progress being made on even the toughest of the cases we get, and we do get the hard ones. We think we heard a “ho-ho-ho and to all a good night” from somewhere out in the parking lot as the sun was setting.
Now that the cold weather has really come to Topsail please remember that if you see a turtle on the beach or in the marshy area that is not moving please do not assume that it’s dead; it could be cold stunned. If it’s a little guy gently pick it up and relocate it to a car, garage or other unheated area of your home. Do not try to warm it up – the shock of a quick temperature change could send it into shock. We’ll send our staff out to rescue any and all turtles, big and small when you give us the word. Call one of the following numbers if you suspect you’ve come across a local cold-stunned turtle: Hospital contacts are Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 and Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line (910-329-0222) if the call comes into us early in the day. The state of NC has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367
The hospital is now closed for tours until spring of 2018. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who continue to support us in every way. Flipper hugs and Merry Christmas from our staff and turtles.
This column will appear every other week through spring 2018. Direct questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.