Veterinarian, staff go to great lengths to save rare turtle

April 26, 2010 

Veterinarian Shane Boylan had to cut open the throat of a rare Kemp’s ridley to remove a swallowed large fishhook. Now it couldn’t breathe.

Twice per minute for four hours, staff respirated the platter-sized turtle by squeezing an air bag into its mouth. By the end of the day it didn’t look like the Kemp’s ridley was going to make it. They were going to lose one of the rarest sea turtles out there; the nests have been found in South Carolina only a few times since monitoring started.

Boylan saw only one hope. He took it home for the night and slept with it, waking up every few minutes to squeeze the air bag.

The Kemp’s is known to nest regularly on only two beaches in the western Gulf of Mexico. This one turned up in the past week in Hilton Head, evidently snared by an angler, one of the first strandings at the start of nesting season. It was sick, weak and might have latched onto the bait as easy prey.

The Kemp’s was one of two sea turtles, along with a green turtle, to strand on South Carolina beaches in the past week. The two turtles bring to 14 turtles the patient load at the S.C. Aquarium’s rehabilitation hospital, normally equipped for a dozen.

The aquarium plans to release seven sea turtles in the next few weeks to make room for the expected new patients. The seven will include the 50th turtle to be rehabilitated and released since 2001.

The Kemp’s might join them one day soon. At about 11 p.m. that night, the turtle appeared to take its first breath on its own. The next morning, when Boylan stuck his finger in front of the Kemp’s to see whether it could make it without the air bag, the turtle bit him.

Question answered. The Kemp’s will make it back to the ocean.

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