Oil spill response - sea turtles graduate and a familar face lends a hand

Hi all,

Thanks for tuning in on the weekend. Weekends do not exist for our sea turtle medical team, the next two days will be long and full of many treatments for each of these little critters. Yesterday we had a visit from our favorite Northeast region sea turtle coordinator and former New England Aquarium Rescue staff member, Kate Sardi. Kate is in Louisiana working on the sea turtle rescue vessels. She is working with the vessel survey teams searching for sea turtles in the oil (more about this here). Mechanical problems prevented the teams from going out yesterday so Kate came over to help us with turtle treatments.

We put Kate to work within seconds of her arrival. In the photo below we parked Kate in front of the file cart (thanks to Kerry from Aquarium of the Americas (AOA), we now have a case binder for each turtle!) to record information relayed from the pool-side team.

Today was a light treatment day. The three new turtles received their second bath and a second physical exam. After completing the other daily treatments, we focused on organization and prepared for the next several days, which will be very busy.

One organizational task on my list was to take inventory of all the medical supplies and create a spreadsheet of what we have on hand and to create an order list. The photo below shows just one wall of supplies I inventoried. Certainly not as rewarding as turtle treatments but a very necessary task.

In the photo below, Kate holds the larger of the two hawksbill sea turtles as she prepares to put him back in the pool after I replaced his flipper tag. The color pattern on the plastron of the hawksbills are unique to the species. Look at how beautiful!

In the photo below Kate, takes a water temperature in the big loggerhead pool.

Each day ends with a marathon record session, followed by medication prep for the following day. In the photo below, Kate draws medication to prepare us for the morning treatments.

I haven't yet described the graduation process for our oiled sea turtles. In this earlier post, I described the red, yellow and green zones and how the animals graduate to the next level in the zone system. Once in the green zone, the animals are observed in smaller tanks for approximately 7-10 days. During this time, the animals are monitored daily for signs of regurgitation, and fecal samples are collected and examined. We have found that some animals will regurgitate several days after intake. To facilitate the passage of any potentially ingested oil, the animals are tubed with a mixture of mayo and cod liver oil on intake, and then at designated intervals. The animals are also tubed with Toxiban, at least once during their first few days. I'll be doing a Q & A with the vets in the next few days. I'll ask them to describe Toxiban for you. As long as the animals go at least a week without regurgitating oil, they can be graduated to larger tanks.

Several turtles have graduated over the past week. Greg and Lance, two AOA biologists/aquarists (not sure of their title- my apologies Greg and Lance!) are in charge of the feeding, water quality, and general husbandry for all the animals in this large facility, including all the turtles. These two guys are unbelievable! They work harder then anyone I know and never seem to stop to rest--even in this heat. Once cleared for graduation, the animals are moved quickly and with great care, so much so that I keep missing it while I'm working on other turtles. I liken Greg and Lance to the energizer bunny - their energy seems endless! One of these days I'll photograph the graduation for you.

This is the only green sea turtle in the facility (I think Oblio, is an appropriate name for him!). He graduated yesterday into a large tank. He never showed signs of regurgitation and was eating very well.

The photo below shows a Kemp's ridely that reguritated oil several days after his last tube feed. As you can see there is a significant amout of oil on the skin and shell of this animal. Remember this animal was thoroughly cleaned before being placed in his tank. He remained clean for days until we came in and found him like this. This animal helped us define the graduation process in terms of number of days on close observation for regurgitation and fecal watch.

I photographed this little spot of oil I found floating in the tank of another sea turtle, most likely this came out in the feces of the turtle in this tank. The oil spot is to the left of the flash spot and the floating plantlife.

This will be a busy weekend at the turtle facility. Today we have a long list of treatments, antibiotic injections and more radiographs (X-rays). The heat also continues. The heat index reported this morning at 6:30 am was already at 95 in some places down here, YIKES!

Thanks again for tuning in to the weekend blog, efforts here continue daily regardless of the day of the week. I'll be sitting down with the vets for a Q&A at some point in the next few days, so if you have a specific question list it in the comment section of this blog and I'll do my best to include as many as possible in the Q & A session - I'm looking forward to my little "Barbara Walters" session ... maybe I'll make them cry to get the full effect!

- Connie


  1. Thanks for all you are doing! Turtle-karma will bless you.

  2. Hey Connie! Who would have thought - twice in one year?!?! Turtles everywhere sing your praises girl. Keep up the amazing work and try to stay cool!

  3. I hope you do not mind, but I took the picture of Kate holding the hawksbill and made a painting from it. I posted it on the FB New England Aquarium page.
    I will try and do some more, if you do not mind. Candi Imming