Peachland intern has eye on veterinary career

Austin Herms

Future vet Austin Herms wears a mask during ‘Lore’s’ surgery.

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 01:14 PM.

Austin Herms, a Peachland native, has a plan for his future; and now he can check “internship with sea turtles” off of his to-do list. Austin is studying molecular biology at East Carolina University where he recently completed a study on toxicity. His research was conducted on nematodes and the effect of nickel exposure on their genes. That kind of data is interesting and relevant to our work because we have seen what swimming in and ingesting water polluted with heavy metals and other chemicals does to our patients. (It’s not pretty.)

Austin also spent a short internship at Mote Marine (Florida) where he performed necropsies on sea turtles that were victims of boat strikes. He noted that the work was “sad, but necessary and interesting” and he learned a lot about sea turtle anatomy and diet. He’s packing all of this sea turtle info into his brain for the day when he becomes a marine and exotic animal vet. In fact Austin was invited into our surgical suite a few weeks ago to observe the procedure on little Kemp’s “Lore.” After what he proclaimed was an “awesome experience” he spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by Lore’s tank making sure that she had a complete and uneventful recovery.

One of the things that so impresses Austin about these magnificent creatures is their ability to survive and overcome horrific injuries and illnesses. For instance, after an hour of surgery on her esophagus Lore was hungry and wolfed down a big bowl of squid a few days later. Medical treatments are Austin’s favorite part of the program, and at our place there’s never a shortage of turtles requiring a lot of hands-on work. Just take a look through our ICU windows during your visit to our hospital for an idea of how time-consuming treating wounds can be.

During the tours Austin likes relaying the stories of our patients, especially “Shellie” who he calls “accident prone.” I guess that’s a pretty good description of a turtle that’s survived a shark attack, boat strike and net capture! He says he always tries to incorporate education into his talk in a “cool way” and includes information on the various species and the most common cause of injuries: “human related.”

In his spare time, when he’s not fulfilling his duties as a Marine Reservist, he hangs out with our other interns, plays video games and reads. He’s also the “house cook,” and as none of our interns appear to be wasting away he must be a pretty good one. When he returns to ECU in the fall as a rising sophomore he’ll continue on his path to graduate with a veterinary degree from N.C. State and “become a turtle vet like Dr. Harms and Dr. Lewbart.”

Nesting + hatching

As we move towards the end of July we’re getting into our “crossover” period where the early nests start to hatch and the mamas continue to come ashore to lay even more eggs. When you tour our hospital spend a few minutes with our volunteer manning the nesting display to get a glimpse of what’s hiding below those staked off areas on our beaches. Our visitors are more likely than ever to have a close encounter of the sea turtle and Topsail Turtle Project volunteer kind as the summer progresses, and those beach walks in the morning expand into nest sitting at night. We continue to rely heavily on our locals and visitors to report any sighting of nesting turtles, hatching nests and any turtles in distress. Please report all local sea turtle activity to our Director of Beach Operations Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If unable to reach her you may also contact Director Jean Beasley at: 910-470-2800. The state of N.C. also has a hotline for strandings (injured or sick turtles): 252-241-7367 and the call will be picked up 24/7. 

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