Veterinary Care for Green Sea Turtles

The animal care team is happy to report that the four green sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Greensboro Science Center are settling in nicely to their temporary spaces. These turtles were among the hundreds rescued off the North Carolina coast, cold-stunned after a sudden drop in water temperature. The GSC, along with other aquarium facilities, are housing and rehabilitating the turtles until they can be released back to the Atlantic.

Rehabilitation of sea turtles is a multi-faceted effort. It involves proper veterinary care, diet, behavior monitoring and adequate, but not too much, human interaction. Cold-stunned symptoms are similar to those of hypothermia. Since turtles are reptiles, they cannot regulate their body temperature. When the ocean temperature dropped from their preferred 70 degrees to close to 50 degrees, the turtles were left in cold shock. Their heart rate dropped so their circulation slowed down, and they became lethargic and able only to float in the water. This reaction to cold causes their breathing to become irregular, and as a consequence, susceptible to pneumonia, and unable to maintain proper buoyancy in the water. The four turtles at the Center are being treated with a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent diseases onset by the cold. We are happy to report they have received their final dose of antibiotic, which they were receiving every 72 hours since they arrived at the GSC six days ago.

Sea Turtles Receiving Veterinary Care

The GSC vet has been monitoring the health of the sea turtles. The turtles were examined upon arrival to make sure their overall body condition was good. He looked over their flippers and carapace, or shell. By moving their flippers, our vet could assess the condition of their joints. He examined their eyes, mouths and tongues to make sure their mucus membranes were healthy.

Sea Turtle with BarnaclesHe also looked at their “barnacle load.” Barnacles, often seen on boat hulls and piers, are crustaceans, related to crabs or lobsters. They float in the water as juveniles, attach themselves to something, secrete a substance to create their hard calcite outer layer and spend the rest of their lives as sessile (immobile) filter feeders. Most are harmless to their host; however, the amount of barnacles on a turtle can be a sign of their health. Healthier turtles tend to have fewer barnacles.

The turtles have been steadily getting stronger and have responded well to the antibiotics. While that particular treatment is complete, they will continue to be monitored until they are released.

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