by Karen Sota
Many of the cold-stunned patients we admitted over the winter are well on their way to getting their final release papers, along with a boat ride home. But we still have a few in our Sick Bay area that need some extra TLC. One of those is a little green named “Thistle.”
Thistle stranded on Cape Lookout on January 18th with more problems than just being frosty. As a turtle starts to experience the effects of the cold their circulation decreases leaving them unable to move. Their
flippers and head are especially vulnerable to all kinds of damage as they lie exposed and helpless. That includes predation.
Thistle was on the thin side, we’ve seen much worse, but we don’t normally see a bite wound on a sea turtle that clearly came from a mammal. Based on the outline of the bite and some adjacent marks it
appears that Thistle was almost a snack for a coyote. Her wound is on the underside of her right front flipper and is very deep, through muscle and down to the bone. The bite is serious, and her flipper is extremely fragile, but she somehow manages to use it quite well.
Thistle was immediately put on the standard protocol of fluids and antibiotics, along with topical wound treatment consisting of lots of flushing with saline and diluted betadine after which she spends time
resting comfortably on a fluffy towel while honey is applied to her wound and left to work its magic. Following a final flush, SSD is applied before she’s returned to her tank.
After a few weeks with us it became apparent that the surrounding tissue was getting worse; the size of the wound was growing, possibly from bacteria foreign to a sea turtle. Fluids, antibiotics, and wound care
has continued and now we’re finally seeing signs of healing. We want the dead scar tissue to slough off by itself without disturbing the muscle healing beneath it. Thistle is kept in extremely clean water, switched between tanks multiple times during the day and handled very gently. And barring anything out of the ordinary it looks like this little lady has beaten a wily coyote and will be going back home with all of her flippers.
We’ve had a very busy few weeks since reopening for public tours. All time slots have been filled on Fridays and Saturdays but take heart. We’re adding another day – Sunday -beginning in April. Tour hours
will be 11 AM – 1 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and Noon – 2 PM on Sundays. Tickets must be purchased in advance through our website: www.seaturtlehospital.org. Select the date, time and the number of guests in your party and purchase your tickets. We limit the number of guests for each time to make the experience more enjoyable and to continue our commitment to keep you and our staff safe as we work our way through Covid, and we are still requiring masks for everyone except children under 5 years of age – no exceptions. And just a reminder that you can come to the gift shop without going on the tour. Enter through the single door to the left of the main entrance.
Even though we’re still on alert for late-arriving cold stuns it won’t be too much longer until those turtle mamas start heading toward shore. On Topsail our official start to nesting season is May 1st. If you spot anything unusual such as a stranding or nesting, please call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and we will meet you to retrieve the turtle that will then be
brought to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and
on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
by Karen Sota
Our turtles welcome you back! We’ll reopen for public tours on a limited schedule beginning Friday, March 4th. Throughout the month of March you can visit us on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 AM – 1 PM.
To book your tour log on to our website (www.seaturtlehospital.org) and follow the prompts. Select the date, time and the number of guests in your party and purchase your tickets. We limit the number of guests for each time to make the experience more enjoyable and to continue our commitment to keep you and our staff safe as we work our way through Covid. Our southeastern NC counties are still considered high transmission areas and we are requiring masks for everyone except children under 5 years of age – no exceptions.
We have thirty patients on-site, most of them in Sea Turtle Bay completing their recovery and hoping for a ticket to warmer waters. Greens Belle and Rosemary are now sharing a “duplex” tank immediately inside the Turtle Bay doors. After a short territorial dispute they’ve become BTF’s – Best Turtle Friends. We suspect Belle may have an ulterior motive though. Rosemary still receives a small ration of fish with her morning veggies while Belle (who is zaftig, to put it kindly) is served only veggies. We think the reason Belle hangs out by the divider so much is that she’s hoping some fish will accidentally come floating her way. Those big innocent turtle eyes, and big turtle hips can’t fool us.
The turtles still housed in Sick Bay require specialized treatment before they can move to a coveted spot in Turtle Bay. They’re part of our “colors” group, named after Crayola crayons. They all receive daily swims in our therapy pool to facilitate strength and range of motion. Several of them get along quite well and you can see them enjoying their time together. Others, not so much, so they are scheduled for solo swims.
Now for the really exciting announcement: our gift shop has been totally renovated and it’s open for browsing and shopping. And you can visit the gift shop without taking the tour by entering through the single door to the left of our main entrance. We have all of your favorites
plus a plethora of gift items, including some from local artisans. And of course, our adoption table is open and ready for you to adopt your favorite turtle from your visit. Take home their photo, adoption certificate and, depending on level of adoption, one of our premium gift shop items. All adoption gift shop proceeds go directly to the care of our patients.
Although the spring weather appears to be trying to get here, we’re still not done with cold-stuns. At this point the turtles are not so much cold as they are severely debilitated from prior cold-stunning. This year it’s seems to have hit the larger loggerheads particularly hard. Please be our extra eyes for spotting for any turtle in distress. Don’t assume a turtle is beyond help because it can’t move. They are stunned motionless. If you spot anything unusual please call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and we will meet you to retrieve the turtle that will then be brought to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
By Karen Sota
After only a few short months in rehab our first group of cold-stuns, aka the “Twelve Days of Christmas Plus One” have been reduced to the “Five Days of Christmas.” Eight little Kemp’s were settled securely into tubs and hit the road for the US Coast Guard Station at Fort Macon where they had tickets for a ride to turtle-comfy waters. Joining them on the trip were turtles rehabbed at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and a few from New England that were flown in that day for the release. And what an enjoyable day for our volunteers who transported the critters – they were invited along on the trip – but thankfully were not released along with the turtles!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch we still have thirty patients in various stages of recovery. One of them, “Kaia” was admitted in November of 2020. Cruising around Surf City Pier probably looking for an easy lunch she didn’t think about what might be hidden in that tasty squid and found herself hooked. Still a juvenile, at just over 13 kg. she had been managing quite well on her own.
Normally hooked turtles recover and are sent home relatively quickly. But Kaia has not been that lucky. She has osteomyelitis in both front flippers in her shoulder areas severely restricting her range of motion. This infection in the bone is something we see with cold-stunned turtles, but that’s not why Kaia was admitted. It is possible that she had been a cold-stunned at some point – after all she is a Kemp’s, and they are notorious for delaying their trip south as the waters cool - just ask the New England Aquarium.
There are medications that can treat Kaia’s condition. We’ve used them successfully in the past, and she’s been receiving them per Dr. Harms’ instructions. But we know meds can have side effects and in this case it has severely affected Kaia’s appetite. She just does not want to eat, so now anorexia has been added to her list of medical issues. It doesn’t matter what we offer her, or how much time we spend coaxing her, she’s just not interested. She’s managed to maintain her weight but only with an aggressive regime of IV fluids and vitamins. And now the poor girl has air in her ears.
But there is some positive news. She now logs in for a daily swim in our therapy pool where our turtles can stretch out, work against the jets and start building back their strength. Kaia is using her front flippers to zip around! And hopefully more exercise will make her hungry enough to eat again. Although she won’t be going home anytime soon things are looking up for this lady.
Limited tour schedule begins in March. We’ve been busy over the past few months not only caring for our patients but making some exciting changes in other areas. Our gift shop has been totally renovated, and when we open to the public in a few weeks the entire area will once again be available for browsing and shopping. And by popular request you will again be able to visit just the gift shop area during tour hours. Lots of new items have been added to our standard favorites, and of course our online gift shop and adoption center stays open 24/7 so you can order our exclusive hospital
merchandise and adopt your favorite turtle(s). Check back soon to purchase tickets for tours beginning in March. Looking forward to welcoming you all back to our hospital.
Cold stun season continues. Although cold-stun admits appear to be slowing a bit that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of these frosty critters. At this point we’re getting the really debilitated turtles coming through our doors. And this year it’s been some very sick loggerheads. Please be our extra eyes for spotting for any turtle in distress. Don’t assume a turtle is beyond help because it can’t move. They are stunned motionless. If you spot anything unusual please call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and we will meet you to retrieve the turtle that will then be brought to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 22ST05.
This fall, we welcomed 10 interns from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. In addition to learning about turtle care and husbandry, the students practiced their communication skills by teaching the public about sea turtles, and completed a project. One such project - a video entitled "A Day in the Life of an Intern" appears above.
In their own words, here is an introduction to the KBSTRRC Fall, 2021 student interns.
AMBER: Hello, my name is Amber and I am from Asheville NC! I am currently finishing up my last semester as a student at UNC Wilmington studying Marine Biology. I’ve always had a love for animals and grew up working with dogs, horses, and farm animals. As I got older I discovered my passion for marine life and now hope to work in shark conservation in the future. This is my first experience working with sea turtles but I am learning a lot about conservation and rehabilitation and love sharing this new knowledge with the community!
ANDRA: Hello, my name is Andra and I am currently a Senior at UNCW majoring in Marine Biology with a concentration in Conservation and minoring in Oceanography. I have a love for all animals, but I wanted to intern at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation hospital to learn the husbandry side of caring for sea turtles. I have grown up with pets ranging from dogs, cats, fishes, and a rabbit so I have developed a love for all animals. This has developed my future interest to obtain my Veterinary Assistant certification that I hope to use first gaining experience working at a domestic veterinary facility and then moving to either a Zoo or Aquarium to work with wild animals. I also hope to become scuba certified and one day explore the ocean in various regions of the world.
BRANDON: Hey, my name is Brandon and I am currently a junior at UNCW. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. I have grown up around animals in the wild and caring for them on farms. I have a passion for preserving the natural environment and threatened species. I have lived on the coastline my entire life, which has allowed me the chance to interact with many marine species of fish and mammals. I have seen first-hand the impact of human presence on wildlife. I have made it my mission to help these animals in any capacity available to me. This internship is a great opportunity for providing hands-on care for marine reptiles and applying the knowledge I have learned during my studies at UNCW.
CAITLYN: My background is in library science but when I decided to go back to college there was no doubt that I would major in Marine Biology. I’m from Atlantic Beach, NC, and have always been fascinated by the life and complexity in our oceans that we are still barely beginning to understand. Growing up on the coast, sea turtles had an almost mythical status: everyone talked about them but few people had witnessed one in the wild. Being allowed to work with them now has been very special. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to contribute to the mission at KBSTRRC and am hoping to apply the practical knowledge I’ve gained here in future research on evolutionary biology and how organisms adapt to different environmental conditions and survive in niche habitats across the globe.
CODY: My name is Cody Parrish, I'm born and raised in North Carolina. I'm currently a senior at the University of North Carolina - Wilmington majoring in Marine Biology with a Conservation concentration. I always hoped for the opportunity to help animals like sea turtles and becoming an intern at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital allowed me to do that. I thankful that I was able to take part in the KBSTRRC internship experience. This experience has help me become more confident in myself, given me new knowledge regarding sea turtles, allowed me to work in a new environment, and allowed me to work with fantastic individuals. Hopefully, I will get to continue to help sea turtles to give them a brighter tomorrow.
DEEDRA: My name is Deedra I’m from Arizona and am currently in my senior year at UNC-Wilmington. I am majoring in marine biology with a focus in marine conservation. Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist, and being an intern at the Karen Beasley Sea turtle hospital has continued to fuel that fire. It has helped solidify my goal to have a career in marine animal conservation. I am beyond grateful to be an intern at KBSTRRC. It has so far broadened my knowledge in, adjusting to a new environment, adapting to change, and working with new people and turtles. I hope to work with turtles in the future!
MILLY: My name is Milly! I am a senior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington majoring in Marine Biology. I grew up in Albemarle, North Carolina, but last year, my family relocated to Shallotte, NC. I was thrilled to be able to intern at the KBSTRRC. I grew up spending lots of summers at the beach, especially with my grandmother in Georgia. She began taking me to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center when I was young which instantly spiked my interest in sea turtles. During high school, I spent as much time as I could near the water and stayed up late in hopes of seeing a sea turtle nest hatch. In addition, one summer, I was able to job shadow Mark Dodd, the Georgia Sea Turtle Program Coordinator for the GADNR. From watching hatchlings crawl to the ocean to seeing my first stranding, I knew sea turtle conservation was where I wanted to be. After graduating in May 2022, I plan to begin my career in sea turtle conservation.
PAYTON: Hi my name is Payton and I am a senior at UNC-Wilmington studying Marine Biology with a concentration in Conservation with a minor in Leadership Studies. I have been passionate about working with animals since I was a kid helping my mom in the veterinary office where she worked. I found my place with marine animals later from the movie Dolphin Tale and realized that my goal, outside of college, is to work at a Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release center for marine animals. This is my first exposure to the animal hospital lifestyle and I am excited for everything I will learn through this experience.
SAMMY: Hiya, my name is Sammy and I am a senior at UNCW studying marine biology and Spanish. I grew up on the Jersey shore so my life evolves around the ocean and all of the animals that live within it. I studied abroad in the Galápagos Islands last year where I fell in love with sea turtles and for that reason I am so excited to be interning at the KBSTRRC this semester. In the future, I hope to focus my career on conservation based research projects and continue working hands on with marine life!
By Karen Sota
Our work at the hospital has been pretty light almost since the beginning of September. We released every turtle that had been pronounced healthy, and almost no turtles have been admitted. If a patient did come in they were qiven a physical exam and if there were no issues they headed back home after enjoying a few complimentary meals during their short stay. We were deluded into believing that our summer full of boat strikes and hooked events was finally winding down, and that most of the turtles were starting to get out of Dodge and heading to their warmer, winter waters. In fact, we were spending our time preparing for the annual onslaught of cold-stuns we expect to admit at the first significant drop in the temperature.
Then came “Pammie.” This cute juvenile loggerhead was found floating in the water near the bridge in Swansboro by an alert angler who noticed several injuries. After being picked up by the Emerald Island Sea Turtle Patrol she was delivered to CMAST in Morehead City for her initial exam, chemistry panels and blood gases. Her injuries are quite extensive but obviously old and in various stages of healing. She was severely anemic but somehow the little lady seemed to be doing an amazing job managing to survive despite having several large gashes, all pretty much at her hind end. Her right rear flipper was basically gone, along with a significant portion of carapace immediately above it. Our guess? Possibly an initial boat impact with its whirling propeller hits her, and while she was stunned a shark saw a chance for a quick bite. We’ll never know for sure – she’s not saying.
We admitted Pammie on September 29th then transported her to NC School of Veterinary Medicine the next day for a full-body CT scan. With the location and number of very deep large and small lacerations we wanted to make sure there was no damage to her spinal cord. Results showed her good to go, just not right away.
Back at the ranch (hospital) Pammie has new digs in Sick Bay, where she currently has the entire room to herself! She’s being treated daily with antibiotics, soapy baths and betadine flushes to keep those healing wounds sparkling clean. She’s handled very gently because the edges of her carapace are quite soft. And thankfully she’s a really good eater; not picky about what we have to offer. Good food with enough protein is essential to healing and the difference is already apparent even though she’s only been with us a short time. You can check Pammie out in person if a visit to our hospital is in your near future.
Only one nest, laid very late in the season is still incubating. But it’s not only those hatchlings that we’re asking you to look out for but any turtle in any kind of distress. If you find a hatchling on the beach carefully pick it up and put it in a small container with some sand and a small amount of water - barely cover the flippers. Then call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, you may call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. We will take the information and one of our area coordinators will meet you to retrieve the hatchling and refer it to us for follow-up. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick, and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. Please note that all our work with sea turtles, at the hospital and on the beach, is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 21ST05.
Fall tours continue! Through October we are open four days a week, Wednesdays through Saturdays from Noon – 4 PM. The admission process remains the same; you must schedule and purchase your tickets in advance for a specific day and time through our website, www.seaturtlehospital.org. And we require masks be worn inside the building for everyone five years of age and over – no exceptions. We are working on an abbreviated tour schedule for November so check our website in a few weeks for details.