From Jenn Dittmar, MARP Stranding Coordinator
The five Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were transferred from the New England Aquarium on December 2 are continuing to settle into our sea turtle rehabilitation program. Transporting the turtles safely is just the first step in our process, and the true rehabilitation work is just now beginning.
Shortly after animals are admitted to MARP, they are given a thorough medical examination that we call admittance exams. All five turtles underwent their exams with our animal health staff the day after their arrival.
Our animal health team works tirelessly to make sure all of our collection and rehabilitation animals stay healthy. That is no easy task, considering they oversee the health of more than 16,000 animals living at the National Aquarium!
A variety of things take place during an animal’s admittance exam. Below you’ll see Cara, one of our veterinary technicians, taking a blood sample from turtle #19 for analysis. Once analyzed, blood samples can tell us a great deal about the overall health of an animal.
During each exam, staff also take radiographs (commonly referred to as “x-rays”), weigh each animal, take a core body temperature, and assess the overall physical condition of the turtle. All of this information, along with the information that was sent with the turtles from New England Aquarium, has created a baseline for monitoring each animal’s health while in rehabilitation.
All five turtles did well during their exams. With a better understanding of their current health status, we can now begin the long-term rehabilitation process. Results showed that many of the turtles are underweight and experiencing pneumonia. Some of them also have abrasions and cuts from being tossed up on the beach when they were cold-stunned.
In the photo below, you can see that turtle #18 has red circular spots on his jaw. These are abrasions that he sustained during stranding. The abrasions are healing well, but we will keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t become infected.
Cold-stun turtles commonly have to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation because their immune system is suppressed during the cold-stunning process. This often makes the animals more susceptible to secondary infections.
And even though these turtles are sick, they are still wild animals with great power in their flippers. How else would they be able to travel as far as they do? During exams we have to make sure to hold the flippers properly for the safety of the turtle and our staff, as Cara demonstrates here:
It’s hard work, but having the chance to help these endangered turtles is very rewarding. I especially love working with turtles because they are just so cute! Below is turtle #20. The lighter yellowish-orange spot just under his nostrils is a scab covering an area of abrasion. We’ll continue to monitor it, but it appears to be healing well on its own.
Caring for these animals is very expensive. Food, medicine, and equipment can cost up to $200 a day for each turtle. As a nonprofit, our program depends on the support of grants and private funding. If you are a supporter of MARP, think about a donation this holiday season!
Stay tuned for more updates from our team!