By Ryan Butts, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Coordinator at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Last week the Sea Turtle Rehab Facility (STRF) at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (GLNC) admitted its first Loggerhead of the new year, a 90 pound female named Phoenix. The turtle sustained a boat propeller strike to the rear of its carapace (shell) that removed the posterior six inches. Upon arrival the turtle was stabilized and received antibiotics and IV fluids. Though the injury was very serious medical staff was confident that through proper diet, medication, and wound care, they could save the turtle.
Little did staff know that there was an even larger problem that Phoenix was facing: a 4” commercial fishing hook that was lodged in her esophagus. Every turtle brought to the STRF receives x-rays and sometimes fishing gear and random debris are discovered. On Monday January 26, Staff veterinarian Maria Chadam and Rehabilitation Coordinator Ryan Butts attempted to remove the hook with long pliers (dehookers) without success. The hook was very deep and the turtle was not thrilled about humans trying to get it out. Eventually the hook would break free from the esophagus and because it was a stainless steel “j-hook” with a large barb tip, it would do severe damage on its way down and would most likely kill the turtle.
On Thursday, Phoenix was brought up to Palm Beach Zoo (PBZ) for hook removal surgery. GLNC and the PBZ have had a long term partnership where the zoo generously lends their surgical suite for Gumbo Limbo to perform life saving surgeries on sea turtles. Going into the procedure, staff was still unsure if the hook could be removed through the mouth or if it would require a more serious surgery in the throat and esophagus. A sedative was administered to calm the turtle and in an intense procedure, Dr. Chadam was able to successfully extract the hook from Phoenix’s throat with a local anesthesia and a minor incision. Staff erupted in cheers at the site of the hook as well as avoiding the more risky surgery. A few sutures were placed at the surgery site to help with healing and the turtle was placed back in her pool where she is now convalescing. After a month or two of healing, Phoenix will be ready to be released back to the ocean.
Editor’s Note — Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre was recently featured in our Spotlight series, check it out.
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