Sick sea turtle rescued from Skulls Inlet sandbar

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 19, 2013 

Janie Lackman has spent years helping recover the bodies of sea turtles from Beaufort County waters.

But this was a first.

A loggerhead weighing 100 to 125 pounds, discovered Tuesday on a Skull Inlet sandbar, was still alive when Lackman and Mallory Dailey reached it.

"Getting a live turtle is exciting," said Lackman, a volunteer with the Fripp Island-based Sea Turtle Stranding Network. "I've never been part of a live stranding. Typically, when there's a stranding call out here, it's a big, dead, stinky turtle. Those are important, too, and we examine them for strike marks and take pictures and send those back to" the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Lackman and Dailey, also a network volunteer, sprang to action when they got the call that a turtle was stuck on the sandbar between Pritchards and Fripp islands.

The loggerhead was discovered by four women visiting Fripp, who were boating in the area. One was a volunteer with Sea Turtle Stranding Network in Virginia. She covered the turtle with a damp T-shirt to keep it wet and protect from the sun, Lackman said.

"We're just so thankful for the people who called it in, because with Pritchards being (an undeveloped) island, it could have been there a long time," she said.

The woman let Lackman and Dailey borrow an inflatable boat to take the turtle back to Fripp. The two volunteers reached the sandbar by canoe but could not have used it to take the turtle back to Fripp, Lackman said.

Once on land, Lackman and Dailey loaded the turtle into the back of a pickup truck and took it to Gardens Corner, where DNR official Charlotte Hope met them and took it to Charleston.

The turtle is recovering at the S.C. Aquarium Sea Turtle Hospital in Charleston.

"The first 24 hours are the telltale hours," aquarium spokeswoman Kate Dittloff said. "If it can make it through the first 24 hours, then it will probably stay alive."

The turtle was "pre-adult," meaning it was not yet fully mature, and its sex remains unknown, Dittloff said. It has a healed wound on its shell and carries a heavy load of barnacles, common among sick turtles because they swim slower, she said.

The turtle also has low blood sugar and an intact, undigested crab in its intestines, she said.

According to the hospital's website, sick and injured turtles are given IV fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, medicine and blood transfusions if severely anemic. Veterinarians do surgery, X-rays, ultrasounds and endoscopies. Turtles are kept, on average, seven or eight months and released into the ocean when healthy enough to survive in the wild.

Sea Turtle Stranding Network volunteers are specially trained to deal with live and dead sea turtle strandings.

People should call DNR's 24-hour hotline, 1-800-922-5431, if they come across a stranded turtle, Lackman said.

"In this part of the world, turtles come onto shore for two reasons," she said. "The females come on shore to lay (eggs) and the other reason is because there's something bad, bad going on."

People should keep a distance any time they see a sea turtle on land, Lackman said.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of these people to see a turtle on a beach, and it's an amazing experience and the gut reaction people have is they want to see it and they want to run up and touch it and that's the worst thing you can do," she said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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