Aquarium cares for injured sea turtle

June 18, 1991|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

A 2-foot-long sea turtle appears to be healing nicely at the National Aquarium in Baltimore after being struck by a houseboat near Ocean City.

"If everything checks out all right . . . we will probably release him pretty quickly . . . [perhaps] by the end of the week," said animal-care specialist Cheryl Messinger.

The 70-pound juvenile loggerhead turtle was struck Saturday. Bleeding and dazed, he was picked up in the Isle of Wight Bay by other boaters who saw the accident. They turned the reptile over to the Ocean City Coast Guard station.

"He had a laceration diagonally across the top of his head and down across the front of his face, almost to his bill," Messinger said. "It's not very deep at all, but it was reported that he was bleeding very heavily."

The Coast Guard notified the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which alerted the National Aquarium. Messinger and Cindy Driscoll, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, drove to Ocean City in an aquarium panel truck to pick up the turtle.

By the time they arrived, Messinger said, the turtle already had received some first aid.

"They had applied direct pressure to the top of his head and the bleeding had stopped," she said. "We did cleanse the wound prior to leaving. . . . We cleaned off the clotted blood and made sure the wound had some medication in it."

With the turtle in a foam-lined plastic pool, Messinger and Driscoll drove back to Baltimore early Sunday morning, arriving at 4 a.m.

Since then, the turtle has been resting in a pair of plastic wading pools once used by stranded seal pups. Handlers continue to cleanse its wounds with hydrogen peroxide and betadyne solution.

Later on Sunday morning, X-rays were taken and showed that the turtle suffered no skull fractures in the accident, Messinger said. A subsequent exam by aquarium veterinarian Brent Whittaker confirmed that the animal was healing well.

If blood tests show that the turtle is not fighting an infection, Messinger said, "the best thing will be to release him back into the wild, where he can feed himself and be in a less stressful situation."

Debra E. Keinath, a laboratory specialist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said loggerheads are listed as a threatened species.

Adult loggerheads stay at sea. But juveniles migrate into the safety of Chesapeake Bay and coastal inlets in June, where they feed on horseshoe crabs, grasses and fish. When the water cools in the fall, they head south.

Satellite devices have tracked Chesapeake loggerheads to nesting sites along the Florida Atlantic coast.

"The Chesapeake Bay has over 5,000 loggerheads," Keinath said. Fewer than 1 percent are adults. Their numbers appear steady.

Many of the animals return year after year to the same feeding grounds until they are full grown. Some juveniles caught in the Potomac River have been tagged and later were found to return to within less than a mile of the spot where they were first tagged.

Although adult loggerheads as big as 1,200 pounds have been (( recorded, few today exceed 300 pounds, Keinath said. High mortality due to encounters with fishing gear and other human activities keeps most of them from growing old.

Boat collisions such as the one Saturday in Ocean City also are common, she said.

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