Injured seal update: Photos from treatment at the University of New England

Hi all,

Back on November 5, I blogged about a stranded seal on Humarock Beach with facial injuries. The staff at the University of New England (UNE) recently sent photos of this animal and a medical update.

Upon initial exam, the UNE staff treated an approximately 3.5 inch long laceration on the animal's lower jaw. They also found several lesions around the mouth, which were cleaned and treated. The laceration was the source of all the blood you saw in the initial post.

These photos were taken by the UNE staff using the remote camera system in the rehabilitation bay where this seal is recovering.

The photo above is not the greatest quality but it does show the partially healed injury to the lower jaw.

Seriously people, how cute is this photo! As you can see the seal is sticking out his tongue, while sleeping.

According to our colleagues at UNE this animal is also recovering from a respiratory infection. The animal is on antibiotics and is showing positive signs of improvements.

- Connie



Still waiting for the sea turtles...

We are still waiting for the seasonal influx stranded sea turtles to start coming in. Usually we have many more patients than what we currently have. So far we haven't had as many stranded sea turtles this year. A couple of factors that may be keeping the turtles off the beaches are warmer weather and wind direction. We hope it may also mean that more turtles were able to get around and out of Cape Cod bay before the water gets too cold.
At this time of year, we expect the clinic to look like this.

But as we wait I thought I would take you through what will happen to a turtle as it goes through the initial triage process.

First, the turtle gets an initial exam. This includes weights and measurements, as well as blood draws and an overall body checkup. A heart rate and respiratory rate are taken. Turtles routinely come in with heart rates of 1 beat per minute and respiratory rates of 1 breathe every 15-20 mins. We look for any obvious injuries and palpate for possible breaks in the flippers. The turtle's eyes are stained to check for abrasions or ulcerations. We gauge the animal's activity level and we note algal cover.

We then start getting the turtle back up to a normal temperature slowly over a period of several days. This is accomplished in two ways. The first way is with the Aquarium Medical Center's ICU. We keep the turtles in here when they are not swimming. This allows us to control the temperature the turtles are recovering in. The other way is by swimming them in different temperatures of water. Everyday we increase the temperature of the pools until they are at the turtle’s optimal temperature. The first swim they take with us is in fresh water which helps rehydrate the turtle and kills off the majority of saltwater epibiota (algae, barnacles etc.) on the turtle.

Once we get blood results back, the turtle then receives fluid therapy specialized for each turtle. Low glucose and the turtle would get a fluids containing dextrose. Low potassium and we add potassium to the hydration. Then if the turtle is strong enough and the blood work is OK the turtle gets to keep swimming overnight. If the turtle needs more rest it gets put back in the ICU for a good night's sleep.

So as we wait for more turtles, we continue to care for our two current patients, Acadia and Bandelier. Both are still doing well.




Goose Finally Heads South

We have been keeping an eye on Goose, the green sea turtle, who was released on August 27, 2009 with a satellite tag so that we could track him. For the past couple months, Goose has been hanging out in Long Island Sound. We expected him to head east to the Gulf stream or south, but he stayed in Long Island Sound for quite some time. We were starting to get worried! Luckily, the hits we got from his tag yesterday show that he has made it out of the sound and is heading south. This is great news.

If you would like to follow Goose's track, visit seaturtle.org. You will notice that the map is updated weekly, since we have the tag only transmitting one day per week in order to save battery life. You can sign up to receive email updates or even adopt Goose!




To Crab or Not to Crab? That is the Question.

The goal of rehabilitation is to release the animals back into the wild, and there are many things we do here to make sure our sea turtles are ready. One part is to offer the turtles live food like they would eat in the wild, and for Kemp's ridleys and loggerhead sea turtles, this includes crabs. The crabs we offer are species that are found right here in the Boston Harbor, including the rock crab and the green crab.

We have to make sure the turtles are stable enough and their gastrointestinal tract (GI) is clear. When cold-stunned turtles first arrive, their GI tends to be full of food parts (including crab claws) that are not moving through the digestive system in their initial debilitated state. We monitor the GI by radiographs and observation of bowel movements. We also look at the fecal samples under the microscope to look for parasites like we found in Acadia.

The picture on the left is Bandelier's initial radiograph. Notice the condensed areas in the middle of the x-ray. That is digestive material in his intestines. The picture on the right is Bandelier's radiograph two weeks later. You can see that material is moving through his digestive tract which is a good sign.

Once everything is working properly and there is a normal parasite load, we will start to offer crabs to the turtle. It is not unusual for some turtles to ignore the crabs in the beginning since they prefer their restaurant quality herring and squid, but after some time they figure out how to be a turtle again and start the process of preparing for release.

Casper, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle from the 2008 season, eats his first crab.

Acadia still needs some time for us to monitor her parasite load and we will continue to monitor her digestive system through radiographs. We won't be surprised if she's eating crabs very soon!

~Kerry and Jill



Just Keep Swimming...

Bandelier stranded on October 17 and came to the Aquarium the next day. The first thing that we noticed was the defect in his hind flippers.

Notice the abnormality in Bandelier's rear flippers.

We performed x-rays a couple days after his arrival and this is what we found.

The flipper stops just at the end of the tibia/fibula bones on both flippers. This is most likely a congenital (acquired during development) defect rather than an injury. There is no active wound or any signs that imply the turtle did not hatch this way.

Luckily, the anomaly of Bandelier's flippers does not appear to affect his swimming skills. He is very active in his tank, maneuvering extremely well and going after his herring. We expect that this deformity will not inhibit his ability to be released eventually.




The Marine Animal Rescue Team's Jeff Corwin Experience!

Melissa, Jeff and Adam drawing blood on Bandelier.

Yesterday we had a special visit from Jeff Corwin. He came by to take a look at our turtles and hang out for a small while at the aquarium. Jeff has recently finished filming a new documentary for MSNBC, airing on November 22, and he has just had a new book published called 100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth's Most Endangered Species, which tells of the plight of many of the world's most endangered species.

His visit to our Kemp's ridley sea turtle named Bandelier makes perfect sense since Kemp's ridleys are critically endangered and their habitat could easily be decimated by human encroachment and/or global warming. It was very interesting to hear Jeff talk about his experience with hawksbill sea turtles in Indonesia. The tiny population of about 800 hawksbill sea turtles that remain in those waters are illegally hunted for their meat, eggs and shells.

Jeff was very interested in Bandelier's little stump-like rear flippers.

While we discussed the plight of Bandelier, it helped us to look at the bigger picture for the conservation of this and other species of sea turtles. As temperatures rise not only do we have to worry about nesting beaches being lost to rising sea water level but we also have to be concerned about the core nest temperature. The sex of a sea turtle is determined by the nest temperature. As temperatures rise so to will those core temperatures producing only female sea turtles. You can learn more about the effects of climate change on sea turtle populations on the Aquarium's climate change pages.

Sea turtle hatchlings heading to open ocean at Boavista Island (Photo: Daniel Cejudo).

Next Thursday, Bostonians will have an opportunity to meet Jeff Corwin at the New England Aquarium. Even if you can't make the lecture, you can stop by and get a copy of Jeff's new book signed.




The tiny world of marine animal diagnostics

Acadia the rescued loggerhead sea turtle

Part of the rehabilitation process on our animals is collecting blood and fecal samples. Through various diagnostics we can determine many issues that an animal may have.

For Acadia, our loggerhead sea turtle, we were concerned about her anemia, and by looking at a blood smear we were able to see that she was producing new red blood cells that will help with the anemic issue. The cool thing about reptile red blood cells is that they contain a nucleus unlike mammals that lose their nucleus in the blood marrow during erythropoiesis. Other blood smears may show lots of white blood cells (WBC) which may indicate an infection; our Kemp's ridley Crater lake had an extremely high WBC count.

The photo above shows the loggerheads blood smear. The yellow arrow is pointing to an immature red blood cell. Note the darker color and condensed look of the cell in comparison to the other red blood cells. 

We also examine fecal samples under the microscope as well to check for possible parasitic infestations. Jen, another biologist with the rescue group, collected a sample from Acadia and went and looked at it under the microscope in the Aquarium Medical Center with Katie, the AMC veterinary technician. They were able to find some cool things.

They found a copepod. Most likely this was swimming in the water. One problem with aquatic animals is obtaining a "clean" fecal sample as unless it is a formed piece or the animal is out of the water you may get other critters as well. They also found a ciliate, again possibly from the water but may have been in the feces. They also saw some nematodes. Nematodes are a typical gastrointestinal (GI) parasite in adult sea turtles. Because of their presence Acadia got a deworming oral treatment the following day.

Acadia continues to do very well!




Rescuing a Stranded Seal with Injuries - WARNING GRAPHIC PHOTOS

Hi all,

It was a busy day in the field today. This morning we received a call from a person on Humarock Beach in Scituate, Mass. who found a stranded seal. For any of you who have followed this blog you know that seals commonly come out of the water to rest on shore and are often not injured or "stranded." As always it's important to keep your distance and observe the seal without disturbing it. You can report a seal you think is stranded by calling the 24-hour Marine Animal Hotline: (617) 973-5247.

The Rescue Team will not approach these seals unless there is an obvious injury. This seal, however, did have an injury and was lethargic. The following pictures show what that looks like.

Photos above were taken by Donald Armstrong. I authorized Donald to approach this
seal for good photographs, which I then used to make the decision to collect the animal. (Click to enlarge)

Photo by Donald Armstrong. In this photo you can see the blood around the lower jaw and dribbling down the chest of the animal.

Kate and New England Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Julie Cavin took a team down to assess the animal and determined that it did need to be collected. They collected it and performed a physical exam, including blood collection and analysis. It was difficult to determine the source of the blood since there was a significant amount of it.

The seal was kenneled after the exam and transported to the University of New England (UNE) Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. The seal will undergo a series of diagnostics over the next several says to determine the cause of the wounds and its overall health. Our network partners at UNE will have their work cut out for them with this case. We'll keep you posted on her condition (yes it is a little female).

- Connie



How many biologists does it take to treat a loggerhead?

Acadia as she is removed from her rehabilitation tank for treatment.

At least twice a week we bring out Acadia, the loggerhead sea turtle, for treatments. She has some superficial skin lesions on her leading edge of the front flippers. This is often seen in cold-stunned sea turtles after they are returned to their proper temperature.

Some of the skin sloughed off and under microscopic examination we noticed some bacterial rods. This finding prompting the veterinarians to start her on an antibiotic. Her blood work also still shows some minor anemia so we also have been giving her a shot of iron as well.

Bacterial rods under microscopy

Unlike the smaller sea turtles we normally admit to our sea turtle clinic, ones that are easily handled by one person, Acadia requires a team. I am told eight is the optimal number but we can get by with five in a pinch.

Putting her back in is not as hard as getting her out!