“Kenny” is one of our current patients hoping to find his release papers under the Christmas tree. This young Kemp’s ridley ran into trouble in May of this year when he just couldn’t resist a tasty piece of something dangling from a line at the Surf City pier. In his defense, he was not the only “pier turtle” that came in during that same time. A lot of his friends were also dining at our local piers. All of his buddies have since been released — so why (Kenny is asking) is he still in the hospital?

For one thing Kenny actually swallowed the bait — hook, line and almost leader. Our Director, Jean has gotten pretty adept at removing hooks she can see, like in the jaw, mouth or flipper. But when the hook has gone further down it’s time for a road trip to CMAST in Morehead City to consult with a professional, usually our turtle vet Dr. Harms. The hook removal was successful but there were additional injuries. Kenny had the usual scrapes and bruises that come along with being hooked and rescued from high above the water, but radiographs also showed that his left front flipper had a fractured radius and ulna.

So even though Kenny’s throat was soon feeling much better without a hook in it his flipper definitely was not. In order to help him recover he was placed in a relatively small tank to restrict his activity. Kemp’s are pretty high strung and Kenny would have been zipping around, pain or no pain. Many times sea turtles just suck it up and pretend they don’t hurt. But he couldn’t hide his swollen joint, and more proof was in the radiographs so Kenny was given medications to hopefully speed his recovery and alleviate any pain. He was also somewhat babied by our volunteers because we felt sorry that he had to go through this. We have to take full responsibility for the fact that we tried to compensate by delivering his favorite diet for breakfast – squid – specifically the heads with some tentacles attached. Try to give him fish now and you get the flipper.

Kenny turned out to be a speedy healer and was soon moved into a larger tank in the big house and given plenty of time to zip around the therapy pool every day. Dr. Harms has been pleased with his progress and on his last visit noted that he uses that left flipper freely and swims normally, even though it might be just a tad bit shorter than his other front flipper. So it looks like Santa Harms will be in to hand-deliver those release papers on Kenny’s wish list, along with his ticket to ride on the boat out to warmer waters.

A few tanks away, long-term patient “Canal” had already gotten a Christmas present. One morning we found it next to his tank with no “from” on the tag. So who was this mysterious Secret Santa? From the picture you can see the smile on Canal’s face when we showed him what was in his package.

Our public tours are rapidly coming to an end as we begin setting up for cold-stuns expected throughout what looks like a nasty winter. Our last day for tours is Saturday, Dec. 22 from 1-4 p.m. We go dark for the public until mid/late April of 2019. This column is now on a 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.