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CT for Sea Turtle: Medical Procedure Shows All Is Well with Coral World Resident

Nov. 6, 2008 – Sea Turtles have adventurous palettes, so when Chelonia started turning up her nose at everything except squid, the experts at Coral World Ocean Park went on alert.
When the 11-year-old green turtle got very picky about her regular diet of green leaf lettuce, romaine and tomatoes back in June, her caretakers worried that she wasn't well.
"Turtles are good eaters," Assistant Curator of Exhibits Erica Palmer said. "They will try anything."
Over time, "Chelly" came to accept nothing but squid. Palmer said that squid is like chocolate to sea turtles, but it has some positive aspects in that the squid helps to keep the turtles hydrated. Sea turtles can't get hydrated from the salt water, so all their hydration must come from the things that they eat.
Suspecting an obstruction in the turtle's gut, Coral World contacted Imperial Animal Hospital in July to see if they could bring Chelly for an X-ray. However the turtle's 160 pounds and considerable size wouldn't fit in the X-ray machine well enough to get an image that showed whether an obstruction was the cause of the appetite loss.
Gut obstructions are common in sea turtles, according to Palmer.
"It happens quite a bit — they will try to eat anything," she said.
Chelly was also losing weight, dropping seven pound over the course of the summer.
In late August, with no improvement in appetite, Coral World contacted Dr. George Rosenberg of St. Thomas Radiology about performing a CT scan on Chelly.
"They were happy to help," Palmer said.
So, once again Chelly was transported across island. Since turtles weigh so much out of water, moving them in vehicles is complicated. Their heavy weight puts a great deal of strain on their lungs, so the Coral World team helped Chelly by supporting her during transport with soft foam and an air mattress to help her breathing.
The CT Scan was able to provide a good view inside of the turtle, showing the production of turtle eggs, rather than an obstruction. Chelly was "gravid" or rather; her loss of appetite was a likely result of the hormones produced when turtles reach their sexual maturity and produce eggs.
Palmer said there were easily 100 eggs in the turtle.
At 11 years, Chelly is on the young side for a green sea turtle to produce eggs, but Palmer said that in captivity, many animals develop faster than they would in the wild. Turtles can cycle up to twice a year, but it could be another two years before Chelly produces eggs again.
It is believed that green sea turtles can live as long as 100 years, Palmer said.
Chelly is back to her old self again, eating all kinds of lettuce, tomatoes and squid, and has gained back three of the pounds she lost over the summer.
This was a first for Coral World, whose turtles are all on the young side, so they haven't seen symptoms like these before. The park has no plans at this time to for Chelly to have any little turtles of her own.
While the park isn't going to start a turtle breeding program, there are seven-day old turtles swimming in one of the aquariums. These Hawks Bill hatchlings were found by the Patagon Dive Center team in front of the Ritz Carlton, according to Arnoldo Falcoff at the Dive Center.
The hotel contacted Coral World, which brought the nine babies back to the park for care until they are 45 days old, Palmer said.
The little turtles will be released near ocean currents, where once they are amongst the sargassum (floating seaweed) the hatchlings will be able to feed and float along with the currents.
"They just tuck their little flippers and go wherever the currents take them," Palmer said.

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