It’s easy to forget that this is November as the warm and sunny days along our coast just keep on coming. But the story is different up north, particularly in the Cape Cod and other Massachusetts areas where the weather and waters have turned a lot colder and where they are dealing with their first wave of cold-stunned turtles.
Cold-stunning can kill, and even when it doesn’t it can mean years of rehabilitation for the unlucky ones that develop problems related to the cold stunning. It’s impossible to know exactly how long a turtle has been distressed or how deeply the “freeze” has invaded its body. Cold stuns that were initially looking like maybe they were a relatively quick turnaround can end up with a long list of serious setbacks from compounding issues. Current patient “Maverick” is one example.
In December of 2017 a number of turtles were admitted to our facility initially from the NE Aquarium as cold stuns. These Kemp’s were some of the tiniest we’ve seen, and boy were they skinny and beaten up after being tossed around by the surf and finally deposited on the beaches where they lay exposed to the cold and wind. Maverick was no exception: he had lacerations on almost every flipper, with one particularly deep one on his left front flipper that almost went completely through. He also had scrapes and bruises on his plastron and exposed bone on his carapace. And typical of cold stuns he did not want to eat. We could treat his injuries with antibiotics, topical creams and ointments and a lot of TLC but if he didn’t start getting some protein into that little body he was not going to make it. For most of last winter you would find our volunteers literally crawling along the floor in Sea Turtle Sick Bay, going tank to tank with fish, squid and crab trying to get a roomful of sick turtles to just eat something, anything! Finally, success, and even Maverick got his appetite back and seemed to be on the road to recovery. At least it looked that way.
During the spring Maverick seemed to lose interest in his breakfast, and he spent more and more time just floating or sleeping on the bottom of his tank. His flipper joints swelled and looked inflamed and he was reluctant to use them. It looked like we had another “Pooh” on our hands – a long term cold stun that was finally released last spring after two years in rehab. Radiographs by Dr. Harms soon confirmed that Maverick had severe lytic bone lesions in his flippers. This is not easy to reverse. Injections with meds that help mitigate the pain and repair the disease were now back on the schedule, which of course did not help his appetite. And cold laser treatments on the affected bone and joint areas were added to the protocol. Now finally, after almost five months he’s starting to turn the corner. He’s eating well again, in fact Jean just put him on a diet! He’s now able to spend about ten minutes in the therapy pool getting some movement back in his flippers while being closely monitored by our staff the entire time.
Maverick is currently in Sea Turtle Sick Bay, which is warmer and quieter than the big house, along with critical care patient “Mighty Mouse.” Their care and feeding is in the afternoons so if you’re in for a tour stop by the windows and you might see first-hand the love that we put into our work.
Through mid-December we are open on our fall schedule/hours of two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1 - 4 p.m. We will not be open on Thanksgiving but will be open on Friday, Nov. 23 for holiday shopping and adoptions. We have some specials planned that will only be available for the holiday season. Adoptions make great gifts any time of the year but especially during the holidays, and you can adopt anytime on-line via the adoption tab on our website: www.seaturtlehospital.org.
This column is now on a fall/winter schedule and will be published every other week until spring.
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.