Known for their hard shells, beautiful heart-shaped carapace, massive heads and strong jaws, loggerhead turtles feed on other hard-shelled prey, which is an important function for marine health – recycling important nutrients and keeping ocean floor sediments balanced. This means they are considered a ‘keystone species’, and that other animals in its ecosystem rely on it for survival – making every one of these turtles even more precious.
Looking nothing like the above description, mainly due to its juvenile status and the miniscule 182 grams it weighs in at, an unwell loggerhead has recently been at Auckland Zoo’s Vet Hospital for some vital veterinary care. Found washed up on 90-mile beach, dehydrated and covered in barnacles a member of the public did the right thing and contacted the Department of Conservation (DOC).
By the time it was sent to Auckland Zoo the turtle’s barnacles had been removed, but it still required an initial veterinary assessment and ongoing treatment by our talented team. Veterinary resident Dr Stefan Saverimuttu, said that it’s important to give it an opportunity to swim for exercise, but also to test its buoyancy and swimming abilities.
Veterinary Manager Dr James Chatterton explains that some turtles ingest plastic which always leaves a big question mark during assessment as you can’t see it on x-rays. So it’s a big step when you eventually find a turtle poo, because it means our vets know there’s no obstruction.
It’s important to test their swimming ability, because Dr Stefan explains that whilst swimming “if they’re fit and well they don’t stop swimming, unless they are sitting on the bottom just resting.” This is an important indicator for whether they are ready for rehabilitation. Upon arrival sea turtles are quite dehydrated, so other important treatments includes oral and injectable fluid therapy, which is the equivalent of us as humans being placed on an IV drip.