Beaufort News

Veterinarian, staff go to great lengths to save rare turtle

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

Twice per minute for four hours, staff respirated the platter-sized turtleby squeezing an air bag into its mouth. By the end of the day it didn’t looklike the Kemp’s ridley was going to make it. They were going to lose one ofthe rarest sea turtles out there; the nests have been found in SouthCarolina 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 westernGulf 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 ofnesting season. It was sick, weak and might have latched onto the bait aseasy prey.

The Kemp’s was one of two sea turtles, along with a green turtle, to strandon South Carolina beaches in the past week. The two turtles bring to 14turtles 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 tomake room for the expected new patients. The seven will include the 50thturtle to be rehabilitated and released since 2001.

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

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