Turtle hospital news - Stainless steel can be deadly for ocean creatures

Turtle Hospital

Arendell awaits surgery to remove the circle hook in her jaw. The eye of the hook can be seen in her mouth.

Submitted photo
Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 05:47 PM.

One of our ICU patients has recovered enough to move down the hall into Sea Turtle Bay. But her path to “the big house” was initially very uncertain, and definitely far from easy.

Juvenile Loggerhead “Arendell” was rescued from a pound net, cold-stunned, and with one of the deadliest pieces of ocean debris in existence imbedded in her jaw: a stainless steel hook. Take something shiny and stick a juicy piece of squid on it and you’re bound to attract the attention of a sea turtle just cruising around looking for lunch. And when Arendell bit, the hook bit back — hard!

Although managing to get stuck in a pound net is not optimal for a turtle; ironically, in this case it saved her life. There’s no telling how long she suffered with a humongous circle hook through her tongue and jaw, but based on her emaciated condition this lady was unable to eat for many moons.

Arendell’s first stop along her long road to recovery was CMAST, NC State’s Center for Marine Science and Technology in Morehead City, home of our turtle vet Dr. Craig Harms. Not only was she suffering from a deeply imbedded hook and was way too skinny, but she was covered with barnacles, algae and leeches. To add injury to injury, she was also missing part of her right rear flipper. Talk about bad luck and a hard life.

After stabilizing her, Dr. Harms initially attempted to remove the hook with a bite block and long-handled pliers. But even in her distressed state Arendell was putting up a fight. After additional supporting fluids and B-vitamins Dr. Harms sedated the turtle and went back to work, knowing that the hook had to come out ASAP if this gal was to have any chance of recovery. Using a bolt cutter he removed the eye of the hook and about 1 cm of the shaft. Dr. Harms noted that even with part of the hook removed he was able to finally back it out only “with considerable effort.” We’ve all gotten splinters and know how painful even a little piece of wood or a thorn can be. We can only imagine the amount of pain and suffering this poor creature had been enduring. The trauma was so severe she lost part of her jaw. She has a long haul ahead of her as it will be years before the area re-grows and the gap begins to fill. 

After spending the night resting at CMAST Arendell was transported to our hospital the next day. She arrived along with her list of medications and a plan for her follow-up treatment. After several days being slowly warmed back to a comfy turtle temperature and floating in fresh water to kill the barnacles and leeches she was starting to look a lot better. The day she was feeling good enough to eat we knew she had turned the corner.

Stainless steel may be great for appliances and building materials used along our coasts, but it’s deadly for creatures who call our oceans home. Discarded hooks are littering the ocean floors and have a very long shelf life. The old style hooks disintegrated in salt water and if any critter (turtles, birds, dolphin and other marine life) ingested or got snagged on one it didn’t feel good but at least it would quickly rust away to nothing with little harm. Consider what Arendell went through the next time you’re shopping for hooks, and choose the old style if they’re available. Low tech works, too.

And the next tour dates are…

Get out your calendars and save these two Saturday dates: March 15 and April 19. We’ll be open for tours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it’s going to be fun, fun, fun. Without giving too much away let’s just say we’ll be celebrating the recovery of two of our “big girls” in some very special ways. Think p-a-r-t-y!

Cold-stunning still a possibility

They’re not done coming yet, even though it looks like the weather is finally becoming more seasonable. If you come across a turtle in distress here are the basic steps for a cold-stun rescue: Remove the turtle from the beach or water and place it in an unheated area such as your garage, car or utility room. Do not try to warm it up! That could cause the turtle to go into shock. The N.C. state hotline for any stranding is: 252-241-7367 and the call will be picked up 24/7. Locally, if you come across any turtle in distress you can text or phone our director, Jean Beasley, at 910-470-2800 or our beach director, Terry Meyer, at 910-470-2880. Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to Jean or Terry.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: flippers@att.net. This column is in the off-season schedule of publication of every other week. To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: flippers@att.net. I’m working on the next edition, but there’s so much to talk about that it’s tough knowing what to include. And Jean continues to work on her “Director’s Message” for the issue. It’s a long process and we ask for your patience while we try to get it together. If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list.

 

Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.

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