Last week we told you about “Snookie,” the enigmatic floating turtle who’s been at our hospital for almost two years. Well it’s déjà vu all over again but this time the object of our turtle affection is “Canal.”

Canal was admitted on Sept.5, 2015 after being pulled from the water near Ocean Isle Beach by a concerned fisherman. This little green was the victim of boat vs turtle and turtle loses. Canal’s injury was near the spinal cord, and was actually in the very early stages of healing when he arrived. But the damage left him unable to dive, with his hind end sticking up in the air.

We see a lot of this type of injury on turtles of all sizes. We always work towards and hope for the best possible outcome – release. But we also know from our over 20 years of experience that this is one of the most challenging rehabilitations that we undertake. Open wounds like Canal’s allow air to get into the body cavity and we all know that air makes you float. One of the ways we try to slowly “deflate” a turtle is by keeping it in shallow water which gives them a better chance of keeping their little butts down. It can take forever until we see improvement and can start raising their water level. Sometimes it just doesn’t help much. Plan B for Canal was stuffing some Gas-X in his fish – epic fail. In Canal’s case he’s literally been up and down over the course of his three years at the hospital.

Canal’s protocol includes treatment for several other issues; lytic bone disease in his shoulders (resolved) and lameness in his flippers. Every day he gets manual physical therapy to encourage him to really stretch and kick with all four appendages. And every day he spends about an hour in the therapy pool. On his “good” days he can swim along the bottom. On his “bad” days (usually when our vet shows up) he happily bobs along on the top looking for attention.

Earlier this year Canal began to exhibit marked improvement in his ability to submerge and spend more time on the bottom of both his tank and the therapy pool. It looked like maybe he had finally turned the corner. After throwing a lot of brains at the quandary (Dr. Harms, Jean and our hospital staff) we decided that Canal should have a chance to once again live wild and free. So on June 13 he was in one of the first groups of patients to return to Mother Ocean. On June 14th he stranded on North Topsail, spending a night in the water, apparently unable to make it out past the breakers. The little guy was exhausted when he came back!

Clearly Canal is not releasable, but he’s certainly adoptable. Three of our previous patients (Pepper aka OD, Bay and Valor) found homes in facilities with large aquariums with staffs comfortable in the handling of handicapped turtles. Canal’s bio is out there and there’s a lot of interest. In the meantime he (and Canal is a “he,” confirmed by tests) is still with us showing off his new grotto where he spends time scratching his back on a brush and viewing our visitors from his domain.

We’re still on our summer tour schedule, open daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from Noon – 4 p.m. for the next month or so. We will not be open for tours on Saturday, Sept. 1 and Monday, Sept. 3 in observance of Labor Day. In mid-September we go to our fall/winter schedule of two days a week. Attendance averages between 800 and 1,000 visitors a day so lines can be long at times. Bring umbrellas for shade and lots of water to stay hydrated. The tour takes about 30-40 minutes once inside the doors so plan your schedule accordingly.


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