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  • Writer's pictureStar Sota

Sea Turtle Hospital News

It’s been a very unusual late winter early/spring at our hospital. Normally we spend our winter months dealing with an onslaught of cold stuns, and we have had our share this year. But by March things generally slow down until the crazy Kemp’s start heading north looking for easy pickin’s at our local piers. This year the Kemp’s started coming for lunch almost a month earlier than usual and paying the price for their cheap meal. We were admitting them two and three at a time. We have quite a collection of hooks and have racked up miles on our van toting the ones that have managed to get the hooks all the way down their throats back and forth for surgeries and scans. Luckily most of these critters are quick turn-arounds and are back home within a week.

Right behind the Kemp’s came a blitz of greens showing up with debilitated turtle syndrome and boat strikes. Sadly, the boats are winning at the moment and some of the little guys lost that battle. But we’ve had more success with our “sick and we don’t exactly know why” patients. Debilitated turtles arrive lethargic, covered in barnacles and algae and are obviously underweight. Something has happened to make them unable to function like a healthy turtle, but we don’t know what. We suspect that in many cases they have been victims of multiple cold stunning events with each one making them weaker and weaker until they strand.

New little green “Sapphire” is an example. She was brought in early in the morning by the kind folks from Oak Island who found her looking lifeless at the tide line. When she blinked they called to let us know they were on the way. This little cutie was admitted at only 55-degrees. Clearly she was coldstunned, but other than that there were no visible wounds. To be as sick as she was this wasn’t the first time that she froze, thawed and froze again. She’s in Sick Bay on our standard protocol of fluids, vitamins, antibiotics and a lot of protein for breakfast and her prognosis is hopeful.

We knew we were busier than usual these past few months but when our Director, Kathy Z. looked at the history we were astonished. Over a ten-year period our average March admittance number is one turtle. The ten-year average for April is 5 turtles. This year we admitted twelve turtles in March and in the first two weeks of April we admitted seventeen! That’s twenty-nine turtles in six weeks, on top of a building full of patients just waiting for Dr. Harms to give his blessing for them to go home.

Over the next month we’ll be releasing the lucky ones at various locations, including several in the southern portion of the coast where many of them have been rescued by the ever-vigilant turtle protection groups. In the meantime, there are plenty of turtles who would love for you to come to visit them and hear their stories when we are open for tours.

May tours are Thursday through Sunday from 11 AM – 2 PM. We will not be open Memorial Day weekend. Tickets must be purchased in advance through our website You can visit the gift shop during those hours without taking the tour.

In addition to hooked and debilitated turtles keep your eyes peeled for nesting mothers as the official season begins May 1st. Our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers will be out every morning at the crack of dawn looking for that first set of tracks. If you come across any sick, injured or nesting turtles immediately call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. All conservation work for endangered sea turtles at KBSTRRC and on Topsail Island is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 23ST05.



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