We all know who the Queen of the hospital is (Jean) but there’s another lady who is definitely the royalty in Sea Turtle Bay: “Snookie.”
Snookie is a three-hundred-plus-pound loggerhead who was transferred to us from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ on October 30, 2016. She had stranded multiple times near Avalon, and when it became apparent that she was not well enough to head back to sea on her own those fine folks took her in. Snookie is what you might call big boned and there are hardly any facilities that are able to accommodate and rehabilitate a sick turtle of her size: we can.
Since her arrival Snookie has been lovingly cared for by our staff. She’s managed to overcome a variety of bacterial and viral infections thanks to the medications prescribed by our turtle vet Dr. Harms. She’s never seen a squid she didn’t think was scrumptious. She’s a poster child for a “Beasley turtle” – fat and happy. As Snookie grew and grew it became obvious that her rehabilitation was going to be an extended process and she would soon overwhelm her big blue tank. So we had a tank constructed especially for her that gives her enough space to do laps and splash around entertaining our staff and visitors.
But there’s one thing about Snookie that has left every one of us puzzled, and she’s not talking. She floats and lists to one side. If a turtle is constantly listing on the surface it’s unlikely releasable because they need to be able to dive to get their food. And they need to sleep on the bottom where they are safer from predators. Nudging her down hasn’t worked no matter how many times or how much time we spend doing it. She pops right back up. So after more than a year of hoping that whatever is causing the listing would magically resolve itself Dr. Harms decided to try straightening her out with a low tech cure: a diving belt and marine epoxy.
Last Tuesday Snookie’s people got busy preparing her for her jewelry. Her large tank had to be totally drained and wiped dry, and Snookie needed a good soapy scrub. Her carapace had to be bone-dry for the epoxy to work so she was fluffed and buffed with towels and a hair dryer. Her shell also needed to be lightly sanded to provide a smooth and level surface for the glue and weight belt. After giving Snookie a mild sedative to keep her calm during the long procedure Dr. Harms and state marine biologist Sarah Finn got to work attaching the weights. Then some of the staff hung around very late into the day basically watching paint dry. Poor Snookie was dry-docked overnight just in case the weights didn’t hold or she was slow in recovering from the sedative.
Wednesday morning she was ready for water, and breakfast. She, and we, are still getting used to the weights she’s toting around. She’s being closely monitored until we can figure out the exact amount of weight and the optimal distribution on her carapace. It’s a learning process for staff and turtle, and thankfully Snookie doesn’t seem to be particularly annoyed by what’s going on. In fact she’s always enjoyed having an audience at her tank and likes the additional attention. Now it’s a waiting and hoping game to see if we can get this lady permanently leveled out and spending more time on the bottom of her tank so that she can eventually be released.
Our hospital will reopen to the public on an abbreviated tour schedule beginning on April 5th. We will be open only on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 PM. Two Topsail Turtle Project (beach walker) training sessions have been scheduled. If you are interested in volunteering to monitor our beaches during nesting season (May 1- Aug 31) you can get the details and sign up during one of the sessions being held at the Surf City Welcome Center on Tuesday, April 10 from 6-8:30 PM or Tuesday, April 17th from 1-3:30 PM.
Just when we thought we had admitted the last of the cold-stuns for the year we got a barrage of calls from concerned citizens about a turtle in distress in the sound area behind the Surf City Hardee’s. Our volunteers headed out to rescue the little guy but when a boat came by it scared him and he dove below the surf. After a short wait to see if the turtle would resurface our staff snagged a juvenile green, very cold (56°) but in fairly decent body condition. Stay tuned – this turtle has a PIT tag so he’s been through this before. Next article, after we research the tag number we’ll be able to tell you more about this little critter.
Obviously we still need your eyes and cell phones so if you see a turtle on the beach or in the marshy area that is not moving please do not assume that it’s dead; it could be cold stunned. If it’s a little guy gently pick it up and relocate it to a car, garage or other unheated area of your home. DO NOT try to warm it up – the shock of a quick temperature change could send it into shock. We’ll send our staff out to rescue any and all turtles, big and small when you give us the word. Call one of the following numbers if you suspect you’ve come across a local cold-stunned turtle: Hospital contacts are Terry Meyer @ 910-470-2880 and Jean Beasley @ 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line (910-329-0222) if the call comes into us early in the day. The state of NC has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367