Bye, Bye Biscuits

Biscuits gets hefted out of her tank in preparation for her transport.

Caring for a 200-poung loggerhead turtle wasn't easy. Every time the Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Team staff had to do an exam or procedure on Biscuits, they needed five or six people to lift her out of her tank and move her to the clinic.

Getting Biscuits on her way back to the ocean was a team effort, too: Rescue staff, NOAA staff, a volunteer pilot from LightHawk and staff from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center worked together to get Biscuits back home.

The LightHawk plane with Biscuits aboard heads to Georgia.

The team from WBUR's The Animalist went along to document the trip. Here's the video from The Animalist.

See more pictures and video of her flapping back into the Atlantic Ocean after her release last month after her rehabilitation with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. It's scenes like this that make hefting 200-pound turtles during months of rehabilitation all worth it!


Biscuits returns home

Hi all,
We received great news last week from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC). Our large female loggerhead "Biscuits" has been returned to her ocean home!

The photos were kindly sent to us from the folks at GSTC.
Biscuits starting her journey back into the ocean. (Photo: Georgia Sea Turtle Center)
Close up photo of Biscuits. (Photo: Georgia Sea Turtle Center)
(Photo: Georgia Sea Turtle Center)
Good Luck Biscuits. Have  a safe journey!  (Photo: Georgia Sea Turtle Center)

Short video of "Biscuits" heading back to the ocean. Video courtesy of Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

One of our other turtles, "Snagglepuss" (087) that made the trip to Georgia with Biscuits was also released. 
"Snagglepuss" on its way home. (Photo: Georgia Sea Turtle Center)

Good luck, "Biscuits" and "Snagglepuss"!

— Adam


Update on #67: Kaboom gets a laparoscopy

We've been following turtle #067—a rescued Kemp's ridley sea turtle—during rehabilitation after it washed up on a beach with hypothermia this fall. First it took a field trip for specialized diagnostics, then it had a bronchoscopy. Today's post is about a laparoscopy.

Most of you are probably familiar with this type of procedure as many of the human surgeries nowadays are performed laparoscopically. This eliminates making a long incision in order to get to a certain organ. Instead, you make one, or a few small holes just big enough to guide the scope and whatever other surgical instruments you need to use. Our turtle just needed one small incision in order for our veterinarians to insert the scope to the turtle’s coelomic cavity (the inside of the body where all the organs are).

Drs. Innis and Cavin performing the laparoscopy procedure. The monitor in front of them 
shows what the scope camera sees inside the turtle.

The first thing we found out about #067 was… it’s a girl!! Normally you cannot tell if a young sea turtle is a male or a female because they do not have any external body features that would be different. However, with the scope we were able to see the ovaries, which is a female reproductive organ.

This picture shows #067's ovary, which looks like a bunch of little balls called follicles.
The arrow is pointing out one of the follicles.

After a few minutes we found the lungs and started visually inspecting the tissue. Most of the lung area looked normal and healthy, however, our veterinarians did find an area in the right lung with some diseased tissue. They decided to sample a small section of that lung for further tests.

Here you can see healthy lung tissue. The arrow points out an area with a lot of air pockets,
where the lung inflate with air during a breath.

This picture below shows the area of abnormal lung tissue, which is getting biopsied using a special surgical string. The way this sampling method works is, you pull the section of the tissue you want to sample through the loop of the string and then cinch the string making the loop smaller and smaller until it cuts through the tissue freeing up your sample.

The area of abnormal lung tissue

After the sample was taken, the biopsy site was closed with stainless steel surgical clips. Now every time we take x-rays of this turtle we will be able to see these clips!

Dr. Innis transferring the lung sample into the vials to be shipped for further testing.

Dr. Cavin suturing up the incision site on #067 after the procedures were completed.

#067, or Kaboom, did very well throughout the whole procedure. It took her about two hours to fully wake up from the anesthesia. By the end of the day she was swimming back in her tank! #067 remains on antibiotics and we are awaiting her final test results from the biopsy.


Update on turtle #67: Kaboom gets a bronchoscopy

We've been following turtle #067—a rescued Kemp's ridley sea turtle—during rehabilitation after it washed up on a beach with hypothermia last fall. First it took a field trip for specialized diagnostics. Today's post is about a bronchoscopy.

Our last post about #67—or Kaboom—was about her CT scan procedure performed at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital. The CT scan confirmed pneumonia and revealed an area in the right lung with diseased tissue. Our veterinary staff determined it was necessary to perform further diagnostic procedures in order to understand how bad the lungs really were and determine the best course of action.

#067 had to be intubated and put under anesthesia for the procedures. Here, Aquarium staff intubates the turtle.

Last week #067 was transported from the Animal Care Center in Quincy to the main building of the Aquarium in Boston, where she underwent two procedures: a bronchoscopy and a laparoscopy. In this post, we'll talk about the bronchoscopy.

Both procedures are pretty similar in the sense that they use a scope with a light and a camera in order to visually examine internal organs; in this case our main focus was lungs. The bronchoscopy required our veterinarians to insert a little scope through the trachea ultimately reaching the bronchi of the lung. This allows the veterinarians to visualize the lung tissue and determine if it looks normal or diseased.

Dr. Charlie Innis maneuvering the scope down the trachea towards the bronchi.

Here you can see the part of the trachea that splits into two bronchi: the left leading to the left lung
and right leading to the right lung.

Upon initial visual examination we did not see anything that looked bad, the lung tissue appeared normal and there was no mucous or discharge.

The right lung tissue as we saw it during the bronchoscopy

While we were inspecting the lungs with the bronchoscope, we also performed what we call a “tracheal wash”. This was done by inserting a small sterile catheter (tube) through the trachea into the bronchi and injecting a small amount of sterile saline solution into the bronchi/lungs, which was then pulled back into the syringe and sampled. The idea behind the tracheal wash is to get the bacteria or fungus that is causing the pneumonia to “mix” with the saline solution so that we can get a good sample of it. When we do, we can hopefully find out what microorganism it is and what antibiotic or antifungal will be most effective in fighting it.

On the outside: Dr. Charles Innis holds the scope in place while Dr. Julie Cavin injects sterile saline solution through the clear catheter leading into the lungs through the scope.

On the inside: The lung tissues with the tip of the catheter before we injected the saline solution.
Since the bronchoscopy did not reveal any bad lung tissue that we could sample for further tests, our veterinarians decided to proceed to the laparoscopy. We'll be posting about this during a later post. Stay tuned!


"Biscuits" a 200lb Loggerhead!

One of our more impressive turtles from this season is an ADULT female loggerhead! It is uncommon for us to see adult, hard-shelled sea turtles in Cape Cod bay. The last adult turtle that came into the rescue program was back in 1999. That loggerhead was slightly larger than our current patient.

As many of our blog followers are aware, each year we have a theme for what we will name our turtles. This year we chose cereals and cereal mascots. So, we have nicknamed this turtle Biscuits! Biscuits is actually a shortened version of her full "name," a cereal called Fruitful Whole Wheat Biscuits.

This turtle stranded on November 23rd of 2013. She actually arrived at our facility with one of our smallest turtles—a Kemp's ridley we call Alphie the Wonderdog.

Our 200-lb loggerhead (L) stranded on the same day as the small 4-lb Kemp's ridley (R) 

This large loggerhead sea turtle provides us with many logistical challenges on exam day. As you can imagine, she can't just be plucked out of the water like the rest of our rehabilitation patients that weigh in around 4-10 lbs.

First we have to send folks into the tank with her to get her out. There are a couple of ways of entering the tank. Very graceful...

or jumping right on in...

Once in with her we have to carefully coax her to the top of the water column. 


 and then lift her out.

Quick celebration for a job well done.

Once out of the water we weigh her...

measure her...

and do a general exam.

Upon arrival the loggerhead was covered in mud, algae, and barnacles. She also appeared to have some dermatitis in the shoulder area possibly from the extreme cold weather.


During the exam we make sure that she is progressing well. We check over her front and rear flippers.Look at her eyes, nose, and throat. Examine her carapace (top of the shell) and plastron (bottom of the shell). We remove barnacles. Treat any dermatitis found. Investigate the entire turtle for any abnormal lesions or wounds.
Pictures above: (L) exam on 12/17/13 you can see dermatitis in the left shoulder and flipper. (R) Exam on 1/7/14 shows marked improvement of the dermatitis.

Once the turtle has had her physical it's time to get her back in the water.


She tends to circle around the tank upon being placed back in. However, once she settles back down she returns to her favorite corner of the tank and gives us a big sigh of relief!

"Biscuits" is scheduled to head to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in the coming weeks to continue her rehabilitation. This will also afford her the opportunity to hopefully be released soon!


Want to help? You can make a donation to support the Marine Animal Rescue Team's work and all the Aquarium's conservation efforts.



We are now in the midst of rehabilitating endangered sea turtles that washed up on Cape Cod beaches this fall, incapacitated with hypothermia and other ailments. This post explains what happens after a turtle's initial health assessment arrives from Cape Cod during its journey to recovery. 

Once rescuers have an idea of a turtle's physical health—including its body temperature—they need to find out how it behaves in water. Is it active and swimming about? Does it lift its head to breath? Or does it just float motionless? Answers to these questions help paint a full picture about the turtle's overall health and fitness.

A rescuer hold a turtle's head above water

So, to the pool! Kiddie pools, in fact. After initial exams the new patients are brought into a chilly room with several kiddie pools filled just a couple inches deep full of water. There are sometimes even ice packs floating in the water to keep it cool. The air and water temperature is carefully calculated so that it closely matches the turtle's internal body temperature.

Volunteers and interns have to don winter parkas when new patients arrive for their first swim. The room and water
temperature is often in the 50s or 60s!

It makes for a chilly lifeguarding job, but it's important that someone is closely monitoring each animal to ensure they are safe. The lifeguards sometimes tap the turtle's shell to stimulate a swimming response. If a turtle is particularly lethargic, they sometimes have to hold its head above water. You can bet they're wearing their thick winter parkas for this job!

As we mentioned in an earlier post, getting the temperature of the turtle is crucial because it's important not to raise the temperature of the animal too quickly (more on that in a later post, stay tuned)—even if the turtle's internal temperature is very low. Each swim is not very long. After their quick dip, the turtles are nestled into their banana boxes, where they spend time in air conditioned rooms to rest and recuperate. They'll have longer and longer swims in kiddie pools each day until they are warm and strong enough to join the turtles in the large pools.

A large pool full of recuperating turtles. The mesh dividers keep turtles organized into separate pens, depending
on their species, size, food needs or other general health concerns.

The next step in a turtle's recovery can, and should, take a little while. The rescuers have to warm those turtles up! Stay tuned for more on this stage in a turtle's road to recovery.

Stranding season, in review:
  • This year beach walkers rescued nearly 90 turtles
  • The turtles were treated at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass., and many were moved to partnering rescue facilities to make room for more patients. 
  • Right now there are more than 40 turtles in treatment at the Aquarium's facilities—mostly Kemp's ridley sea turtles and some loggerhead and green sea turtles. 


A medical field trip for turtle #67

We are now in the midst of rehabilitating endangered sea turtles that washed up on Cape Cod beaches this fall, incapacitated with hypothermia and other ailments. 
  • This year beach walkers rescued nearly 90 turtles. 
  • The turtles were treated at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass., and many were moved to partnering rescue facilities to make room for more patients. 
  • Right now there are more than 40 turtles treatment at the Aquarium's facilities—mostly Kemp's ridley sea turtles and some loggerhead and green sea turtles. 
This post follows one turtle on a special trip for advanced medical imaging.

Recently one of our turtles, #067 a.k.a. Kaboom, underwent a CT scan procedure at the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn, MA.

#067 getting secured for his CT scan procedure, as personnel is not allowed in the room
to hold the turtle while the scan is being performed.

#067 is a juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle who is currently our most critical patient. While other sea turtles under our care are actively swimming, diving and gaining weight, #067 up until the beginning of this week was spending most of its time floating at the surface, not showing much of any kind of activity. Only recently he started diving and swimming and looking more “like a turtle”.

#067 ready for his procedure. You can see the red lines on his head and body, which are used to make
sure the patient is aligned correctly for the scan.

His appetite has also been very poor and this turtle only eats shrimp, which is low in calories and not very nutritious. Even though our Animal Health Department has some pretty advanced diagnostic techniques available to us, sometimes we have to rely on other animal hospitals with state of the art diagnostic equipment to help us better understand why our patients are not improving.

This is the view from the computer station that controls the CT machine into the CT room. 
You can see #067 on the table in the distance. The scan is in progress.

The CT scan confirmed that #067 has severe pneumonia, but the radiologist has not seen anything else in the turtle’s body that would explain his lack of improvement. #067 will remain on antibiotics and we will continue to monitor his blood values and lung x-rays to see if there is a change.

One of the CT images showing areas of consolidated, diseased, tissue in the right lung indicated by red arrows.

If it’s deemed necessary, our veterinary staff might also perform a lung biopsy to further analyze what kind of bacteria are causing the pneumonia. Thanks to the CT images, we will be able to target the bad, or diseased, tissue areas for the biopsy. The turtle will most likely get another CT scan in a month as well.

MVRH veterinary radiologist, Dr. Tonya Tromblee, and Dr. Charlie Innis, 
New England Aquarium veterinarian, analyzing the CT scan images.

We've visited the Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital before. See how these excellent facilities and caregivers have helped rescued sea turtles before!