Moment of Science: Turtle recovery, rehab, and release

A Moment of Science

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – “We want to make sure people know if a sea turtle is up on the beach, if it’s not a nesting female at night, that animal is up there because they’re sick.”

Melissa Ranley manages the Sea Turtle Care Center at the SC Aquarium, working to save and rehabilitate these turtles which strand themselves on our shores.

Boat strikes from propellers, shark bites, fishing wire entanglement are all risks for sea turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs. These are the root for many injuries, but most strandings come from “debilitated turtle syndrome”, in which the turtle is too emaciated, too dehydrated to survive out in the water. The worst possible thing someone can do if they find a sick turtle is put them back in the water.

The best course of action if you find a sick turtle is to call the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at their turtle hotline (1-800-922-5431). They have teams that will come in- check on the animal, and likely transport them to the Sea Turtle Care Center to be treated.

Veterinarians go right to work, performing triage; fluids, blood tests, CT scans, all to determine what is wrong and stabilize the animal. Once better, turtles will still need to recover weight and strength- swimming in specially monitored pools that aquarium visitors can see. Annually, the center typically treats 30-50 patients- staying as short as a month or two to over a year depending on the severity of their wounds.

A patient needs a name, and since turtles lack any identification cards, veterinary staff pick names from a theme to identify them, last years was Harry Potter with Scabbers and Professor McGonnegal patients of the center.

Once staff assesses that a turtle is well enough, they work with SC DNR to determine the best time and location to be released. And that’s what they just did- May 1st at Folly Beach with the first turtle release of the season. Dumbledore, Voldemort, and our friend Scabbers; all loggerhead turtles weighing between 50 and 320 pounds, returned home.

Keep them in mind as you head to the beach this season and follow the turtle safety tips presented in last week’s Moment of Science.

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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