N.S. Mettee, DVM
Loggerhead Marine Life Center, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Hobe Sound, FL, USA
An extended period of frigid temperatures resulted in an unusually high number of sea turtle strandings in January 2010 in Florida. Over 4500 sea turtles stranded over the course of 3 weeks; 80% of these stranded alive. In the early stages of the event, rehabilitation seemed feasible for all live strandings. Cases were distributed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) over 13 rehabilitation facilities in South and Central Florida. These facilities were at capacity in early January, before the peak of the cold stun hit. A triage system utilizing physical exam and patient side blood work via the I-STAT was developed to filter the animals with mild abnormalities requiring minimal intervention (“treat and street”) from those requiring more extensive hospital stays and medical or surgical management. Core blood values including HCT, TS, blood glucose, pH and ionized calcium were obtained. Animals held back had a variety of maladies ranging from electrolyte disturbances, corneal injury, shark bites, motor craft injury, eyelid trauma due to pecking by birds, and fibropapilloma (FP) tumors. A large number of FP turtles were suffering complications before the cold stunning. These patients already were anemic, malnourished, had widespread tumor necrosis, and rampant infection. All released turtles were given a visible flipper tag and PIT tag to ensure that any wash-backs would be identified as such. Stranding numbers have remained uncommonly high for the remainder of the year, with many turtles that endured the weeks of cold temperatures stranding weeks to months later in critically debilitated condition.