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Groups Work Together To Save Injured Loggerhead Sea Turtle 

August 2005

Numerous agencies and groups recently worked together to save a loggerhead sea turtle stranded on North Myrtle Beach, and although the turtle eventually died, a state wildlife biologist says valuable lessons were learned that might help the next stranded sea turtle.
loggerhead sea turtle

This loggerhead stranded alive in the surf June 9, and had monofilament line attached to it. A lifeguard cut the line and pushed the turtle back into the water. The turtle could still be seen from shore because it was floating. Sally Murphy, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologist and South Carolina State Sea Turtle coordinator, and Jerry Gordon with the North Myrtle Beach Police Department discussed how best to retrieve the turtle. Using personal watercraft, officers were able to maneuver the turtle closer to shore and then throw a cast net over it. DuBose Griffin, DNR biologist, met Gordon at the police station in North Myrtle Beach and transported the turtle to the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston.

The turtle was covered with leeches and leech eggs, according to Griffin, and had a large lesion on the right side of its mouth also covered with leeches. Overall, the turtle was in pretty good body condition but lethargic. Jason Crichton of the South Carolina Aquarium met Griffin at the Charleston facility to unload the turtle, which was releasing large amounts of gas from its mouth. Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Tom Sheridan X-rayed the turtle and speculated that it might have a problem in its gastro-intestinal tract.

Griffin drove the turtle to North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, N.C., to be under the care of Dr. Greg Lewbart and Shane Christian. X-rays indicated a large hook in the esophagus located about 16 inches from the beak. The next morning, an endoscopic exam (under anesthesia) located the hook. Using an endoscopic biopsy tool, the hook was slowly pulled up the esophagus. Its position in the esophagus allowed the hook to be pulled toward the mouth without becoming hooked again. It was still attached to the monofilament line, which was cut. The hook was removed but the monofilament line remained. The hook was a large circle hook, most likely from commercial long lining due to its size (two inches at its widest point). The hope was that the monofilament line would pass. The next afternoon, the turtle was returned to the aquarium, but died later that afternoon.

A post-mortem examination conducted by Griffin and DNR biologist Tom Murphy indicated that the hook had been in the turtle for some time. Both esophagus and trachea had been punctured. All signs indicated a slow death due to infection from the puncture wounds. "The sad part is that the turtle died. The hook was as big as my hand and is just one of millions in the ocean worldwide." said Griffin. "However, the good part is everyone was working together to save it, including DNR, the North Myrtle Beach Police, South Carolina Aquarium, N.C. State veterinarians and practicing students. With all these groups and people working together, we might be able to save the next turtle."

To learn more about the DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program, visit its Web site at To learn more about the DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program, visit its Web site at Also, the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston has enlarged its turtle hospital, and many of its patients are doing quite well. Donations are being accepted for the purchase of food and medicine for the resident sea turtle patients. To read more about the patients, visit our web site.

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