Turtle Hospital

Grade Level: 6 - 12

Connection to other subjects: Biology, Environmental Science

Learning Objectives:  Students will learn how the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded and injured sea turtles impacts species survival.

 

Materials:

Turtle Hospital biographies

 

Teaching Time: 45 minutes

 

Vocabulary:

injury                                     parasites

strandings                             infections

impact                                   antibiotics

rehabilitation                         predation

marine debris                       carapace

plastron                                keratin

gill net                                   necrotic

cloaca

 

Background:

Marine turtles are frequently injured in the wild.  Some injuries occur when they become entangled in marine debris, which is trash (fishing line, plastic bags, balloons, etc) that is discarded into the marine ecosystem. In some cases the entanglement is not severe but in others marine turtles can loose flippers or ultimately, their lives.  Few sea turtles are able adapt to life when they have sustained multiple flipper loss as this will often cause difficulty swimming or surfacing for air.

Predator-related injuries are mostly observed in juvenile and sub-adults. Such injuries are usually caused by small sharks.  The wounds sustained during predation are usually jagged and torn. These wounds are dressed in the hospital and antibiotics are administers to fight bacterial infections.  Some turtles unfortunately die due to the loss of blood caused by these injuries.  The carcass is eventually carried to the shore with the incoming tide.

Another human impact to sea turtles is boat propeller cuts. Boats traveling at high speeds in the water can strike turtles and cause severe impact injury to the shells. Turtle shells are made of bone. The carapace is made of fused ribs and covered with a thin outer layer of keratin. Although the carapace is very thick and hard, it can easily be broken by a boat strike. The carapace protects the turtle’s internal organs and therefore severe strike wounds are often fatal.

One of the least observed causes of marine turtle stranding is due to viral or parasitic infections.  Parasites can affect the turtle’s blood quality resulting in low red blood cells and high white cell counts. A de-wormer is given to a turtle with parasites through the mouth and the turtle is monitored for a few weeks. If the turtle receives a clean bill of health after a second blood analysis it is released back into the wild.

Sea Turtle, Inc. is a rehabilitation facility that helps sea turtles recover from their injuries and ultimately releases them back to the wild. A successful recovery does not always mean that the animal can be released. Unfortunately for some of our rehab animals, their injuries can be too severe for them to survive in the wild. Those that cannot be released become education animals and are sent to zoos, aquariums, and other marine facilities.

 

Procedures:

Read the following biographies and encourage your students to come up with some ideas that would help reduce the number of marine turtle strandings.  Consider injuries that can be prevented in your assessment. Use the discussion questions at the end or think of your own discussion.

 

Closure:

Students can discuss their ideas with the class.

 

Name

Species

Current Age

Stranding Date         

Injury

Current Status

Location

Allison Atlantic green 8 years 06/06/05 Missing 3 flippers- possible shark attack Non-releasable Sea Turtle, Inc.
Karma Atlantic green 40-50 years 10/01/05 Entanglement- amputation required for front right flipper Released summer 2011 Ocean
Bruno Atlantic green 4-5 years 03/13/11 Entanglement and consumption of fishing line Released Summer 2011 Ocean
Gerry Atlantic green 24-25 years 1980 or 1981 Over-socialized Non-releasable Sea Turtle, Inc.
Lucy Green 5-6 years Spring 2004 Boat propeller cut Died Deceased
Precious Atlantic green 4-5 years 9/14/05 No physical injuries, possible infection Released 10/25/2005 Ocean
Concha Hawksbill 2-3 years 9/11/05 Missing left front flipper, covered in barnacles.  Predator attack. Released summer 2008 Ocean
Merry Christmas Atlantic green 24 years No record available. Weak hatchling found on beach, genetic defects. Non-releasable Sea Turtle, Inc.
Pepe Atlantic green 3-4 years 11/1/2005 Plastic consumption Released April 2006 Ocean

 

  

Turtle Hospital

Case Files

 

Name:  Allison

Species:  Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 1-2 years old

Allison Bottom WoundAllison Profile Injury

Allison Harness

Allison stranded June 6th, 2005 after having been attacked by a small shark. She had exposed bone and a series of bite marks on both her carapace and plastron. When Allison healed from her wounds, her next task was to adapt to her disability by learning to swim with just one flipper. In 2009, a successful prosthesis was created to allow Allison to swim in deep water. She is now 65 pounds and, with the help of her prosthetic, she is able to swim for short periods of time in deep water with other Atlantic green sea turtles!

 


Name: Karma

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 40-50 years old

Karma's StrandingKarma's BoneKarma Swimming

Karma stranded on August 15th, 2010. She was found entangled in a discarded gill net.  Unfortunately for Karma, the loss of circulation to the right front flipper was so severe that it caused the flipper to become necrotic and rot away. An operation was needed to remove excess tissue.  Karma was released in August of 2011.

 

Name: Bruno

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 4-5 years old

Bruno's CloacaBruno with Barnacles on Mouth

Bruno stranded on March 13th, 2011 after becoming entangled in a discarded monofilament line. The line was wrapped around his front flippers and neck, going into his mouth, and coming out his cloaca. X-rays showed that he did not swallow any hooks. Bruno underwent fiber therapy and passed 2 feet of fishing line. He now has three scars remaining from his entanglement, one located at the base of the neck and the other two on each of the front flippers. Bruno has healed from these wounds and was released in June of 2011.

 

 

Name: Gerry

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 30 years old

Gerry

Gerry stranded in 1980 after being disoriented in a hurricane and washing on shore. “The Turtle Lady” Ila Loetscher, used him throughout the 80s and 90s as her main education turtle. In 1984 Gerry made his first major public appearance on “Late Night” with David Letterman and later that same year on Thanksgiving eve on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.

Gerry made many other appearances on television helping to promote sea turtle conservation. While at home with Ila, Gerry was part of the “Meet the Turtle Show” where he was dressed up in costumes. Ila often dressed sea turtles in human costumes because she believed that to change the future conservation of sea turtles, children had to fall in love with them. Those children that visited Ila and Gerry have now grown up. They are the teachers, business people, scientists, and legislators that make important decisions about sea turtle conservation. Gerry is still at Sea Turtle, Inc. and is non-releasable because he is over-socialized.

 

 

Name: Lucy

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 7-9 years old

LucyLucy's StitchesLucy's Surgery

Lucy stranded in 2009 with a severe boat propeller fracture to her carapace. The impact punctured her lung and surgery had to be performed to re-inflate it. The very severe wounds were wired shut to encourage healing of the shell and keep out bacteria. At first it seemed to work, but eventually she got a nasty infection in her lungs and the decision was made to euthanize her.

 

 

Name: Precious

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 4-5 years old

Precious's BloodPrecious's Release

 

Precious stranded September 14th, 2005. There were no external wounds on the body so in order to discover the cause of stranding a small sample of blood was taken and sent for analysis. Blood analysis often can tell what is going on inside the turtle’s body. If there is an infection the blood will show it. Finding no evidence of infection in her blood, Precious was tagged with a metal and PIT tag and released October 25th, 2005.

 

 

Name: Concha

Species: Hawksbill sea turtle

Age: 1-2 years old

Concha's Eye InjuryConcha's Head InjuryConcha's Flipper Tag

Concha is a Hawksbill that stranded on September 11th, 2005. She had a severe fracture directly over the right side of the head. The left eye was punctured and had shriveled into the eye socket. Concha developed other complications due to the head injury. This turtle did not extensively use her left front flipper, which could be related to the head injury. Within the first week of her arrival, we observed that Concha could not find the food we dropped into the pool. This indicated that Concha might be blind. Two local optomologists checked out the remaining eye and noticed that there was a large cataract that was obstructing the eye. After several months of rehabilitation, Concha's condition greatly improved and the Hawksbill was eventually released back into the wild.

 

 

Name: Merry Christmas

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 20-25 years old

Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas Front Flipper

Merry Christmas is one of the two remaining “old timers” at Sea Turtle, Inc. All that is known of her origins is that she stranded on South Padre Island on Christmas Eve and was rescued by the “Turtle Lady” herself, Ila Loetscher.  Merry Christmas was a beloved favorite of Ila’s and was said to be her smartest turtle. She is considered a non-releasable animal because she has been in captivity and around humans too long to be successful in the wild. A secondary reason is that she was born with obvious physical defects which could be passed on to offspring if she were ever to mate.

 

 

Name: Pepe

Species: Atlantic green sea turtle

Age: 3-4 years

Pepe the TurtleTrash-in-Pepe's-Feces

Pepe stranded on November 1st, 2005.  Plastics in the form of nets, fishing line, latex balloons, and bags are harmful to marine life. Turtles are not able to distinguish between food and trash in the water. Pepe was no exception. The above picture is plastic and latex that were found in Pepe’s feces.  Latex balloons are often confused by wildlife as something tasty to eat. Eventually, he passed all the plastic and his feces came out clear. He was released in April of 2006.

 

 

Discussion

What are the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a one-flippered sea turtle?

 

How can Allison’s prosthesis benefit humans?

 

What is a gill net?

 

What legislation has been passed on gill nets in the USA? Do our border countries have the same legislation?

 

How could Karma’s injury have been avoided?

 

How could Bruno’s injury have been avoided?

 

Why did the hospital have to wait for Bruno’s fishling line to pass, why could it just not have been pulled out of the cloaca?

 

Bruno was a very lucky turtle. Discuss what COULD have happened to him.

 

Why is Gerry still in captivity? Do you agree with Sea Turtle, Inc’s decision to keep him?

 

What were positive and negative outcomes of Ila’s using Gerry as an education turtle?

 

How could Lucy’s injury have been avoided?

 

Discuss the method of patching up Lucy's shell. Are there any other surgical options to patching up a turtle shell?

 

If Precious had no physical injuries and blood analysis came back inconclusive, why did she strand?

 

Do you think that viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections in sea turtles will increase or decrease in the future? Why?

 

How do you think Concha sustained her injury?

 

Why do you think Concha's behavior was so strange?

 

If Concha was blind in one eye, do you agree with the decision to release her?

 

Why was Merry Christmas deformed?

 

What are the pros and cons of keeping Merry Christmas?

 

How could Pepe’s injury have been avoided?

 

What changes can we make in our lives to protect the ocean?

 

How can we get others to make these changes?