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Coming out of their shell: Injured turtles get CT scans

080918 Turtles
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Kristen Hepperly cares for Jonas Salk, an injured green sea turtle, prior to Jonas' CT scan at Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City, Wednesday. Officials with the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center on Roanoke Island believe Jonas was struck by a boat. They say the blow not only cracked his skull, but caved in the bone around one of his eyes and broke a chunk off of the side of his shell. The injury has affected Jonas’ eating, swimming and balance, a center official said.

080918 Turtle
080918 Turtles
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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Alexander Graham Bell visited Sentara Albemarle Medical Center on Wednesday, and he was feistier than during his last visit.

Alexander, a loggerhead sea turtle, reported to the hospital in Elizabeth City for a followup CT scan so that personnel could check whether his serious head wound has healed.

The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center on Roanoke Island is caring for Alexander and other wounded sea turtles. Sentara Albemarle allows use of its computed tomography scanner to provide detailed, cross-sectional X-rays to guide the turtles' treatment.

Alexander is recovering well and hopefully will be released back to the wild soon, STAR Center Manager Amber White said minutes before his latest scan. Alexander's injury appears to have been caused by a boat strike that cracked open the top of his skull. Kite surfers discovered him near Rodanthe in mid-May, she said. The turtle had his first CT scan at Sentara Albemarle in late June.

Though the STAR Center's veterinarian was initially unsure about Alexander's recovery, he's now energetic and eating well, White reported.

“He's feisty now,” she said.

That feistiness created another problem, as Alexander fidgeted some before settling down for his scan.

Though the results of Wednesday's scan weren't immediately available, White is hopeful Alexander will make a full recovery. She also noted he still seems to have vision in both eyes.

The prognosis for another turtle the STAR Center brought to Sentara Albemarle is less clear.

Jonas Salk, a green sea turtle who's only a few years old, also was apparently hit by a boat. The blow not only cracked his skull, but caved in the bone around one of his eyes and broke a chunk off the side of his shell. The injury has affected Jonas’ eating, swimming and balance, White said, adding it's possible that bone fragments are embedded in his brain.

Jonas' injury is more recent than Alexander's, so it's unclear when or if he'll be released, White said. The center will release turtles who've lost an eye if they still function normally, she explained. If Jonas has to remain in captivity, there are long-term facilities willing to care for him, she said.

White said the STAR Center only has a few turtles now, but is expecting to see dozens more over the fall and winter. The center's website notes that sea turtles often need care in the winter due to “cold stunning,” or sudden drops in water temperatures that cause hypothermia-like symptoms.

White and the center's assistant public relations coordinator, Chelsea Miller, said the center names its turtles based on annual themes. This year's theme was conservationists and explorers, but they got so many turtles they expanded to other famous scientists, they said.

The STAR Center is located at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, which asks people to report when sea turtles in distress by calling 252-441-8622.

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