Participating in the rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. As you probably already know, the National Aquarium is part of a stranding response network that encompasses the North East region of the United States. Many of the turtles we handle initially are found as “cold stunned” along Cape Cod beaches in Massachusetts.
New England Aquarium stabilizes animals and rehabilitates many, but often reaches out to partner organizations such as us for assistance. This was the case for one of the animals currently in our care, Blade, who came to us last December.
Blade initially had a large fracture of the upper and lower shell (carapace and plastron) that healed nicely over the first two months of rehabilitation. After initially improving, Blade started to decline significantly in mid-February. Diagnostics showed he was septic (systemic bacterial infection) with a resistant strain of Enterococcus bacteria.
His front flipper digit joints began to swell and it appeared he had bacterial infections developing in them and he stopped using his front limbs. This is very rare in sea turtles; normally digit infections don’t impact their swimming ability.
Radiographs and a CT scan showed the shoulder joints were infected as well. Biopsy and cultures confirmed the joint infection was due to the same bacteria found in the blood.
After aggressive antibiotic therapy and general supportive care, we were able to resolve the sepsis and distal limb infections and he showed some improvement in strength, but remained unusually quiet and weak and refused to use the front limbs. A physical therapy program was started to improve limb motion.
In order to check for bacterial abscesses in his organs and brain, we took Blade for an MRI scan at Veterinary Imaging of the Chesapeake. There were was no evidence of organ or brain abscesses found on MRI, although the shoulder joints were abnormal, as expected.
**Photos courtesy of Red Leash Photography.
In the last month, Blade has continued to improve clinically and we are planning to do an arthroscopy to remove abnormal and potentially infected tissue from the shoulder joints. Our ultimate goal is to get Blade to a point where we can be released.
Stay tuned for more updates on Blade as his rehabilitation continues!