We met Seaweed last year under sad conditions and now, almost a year later, the Stranding Response Program's exceptional care and state-of-the-art treatment have given this loggerhead sea turtle a much brighter future. Seaweed was accidentally hooked by a recreational fisherman at the Oceanview Fishing Pier on the 4th of July 2019. The fisherman and the pier staff pulled the turtle out of the water and called the Stranding Response Program. Our Stranding members are able to take x-rays and thoroughly assess the condition of a hooked turtle and look for less visible injuries, including hooks deeper in their digestive system. After the initial visual check, Seaweed was admitted for further assessment and rehabilitation.
Likely the result of a vessel-strike, Seaweed's more severe wounds were not initially as apparent, but signs indicated that Seaweed had been living with the wounds for quite a while. Once in the expert care of the Stranding Response Program, we discovered that Seaweed had substantial fractures to its carapace (top shell), both along the midline and extending from the midline to the left side. This was especially concerning because a sea turtle's spine runs from its head to its tail along that midline, meaning there could have been spinal injuries. The wounds were heavily encrusted with barnacles, algae, and mussels indicating that these were older injuries. Three hooks, in addition to the one that had caused the reported hooking, were discovered; one in the esophagus, one in the gastrointestinal tract, and one in the rear flipper. All hooks were either successfully removed or passed naturally. But the bigger concerns of Seaweed's carapace injuries were still to be addressed. Seaweed had full and normal range of all limbs. However, as the carapace fractures involved some of the vertebrae, CT and MRI procedures were used to confirm that the spinal cord was not damaged. (You can see more about that story here.)
Last fall, members of the team reached out to Kinetic Concepts, Inc., a global corporation and subsidiary of 3M, that produces medical technology related to wounds and wound healing. KCI produced the first V.A.C.® (vacuum-assisted closure) machine, developed specifically for negative pressure wound therapy Though designed for humans, this therapy has shown great promise in shortening the healing time in sea turtle shell trauma, like Seaweed's. After KCI learned about what we do as a non-profit animal care organization, they informed us that we qualified for their charitable care program. This program provided us with a V.A.C.® therapy unit on a long-term, indefinite loan. Additionally, they continue to supply us with consumable materials, including adhesive drapes, canisters, tubing, and GRANUFOAM™ at no cost!
The V.A.C.® therapy machine uses GRANUFOAM™ (patented foam dressings) and negative pressure to stimulate the healing of wounds by increasing blood supply to the wound bed, drawing out any infectious material, and helping the wound bed constrict down. This small machine can be set for a prescribed rate of pressure and length of time.
Seaweed's case provided a unique challenge that called for a creative approach. For the machine to work, an airtight seal must be made around the wounds. The extensive nature and location of Seaweed's carapace wounds made this difficult. The team devised a creative solution using playdough (and other materials), as it was found to be the perfect filler. Playdough, which can be safely applied to healed areas of the carapace, provided a complete seal so that the adhesive drapes and V.A.C.® therapy machine could do their work.
Months later, we are excited to announce that Seaweed's wounds are continuing to heal well. Although not ready just yet, we are cautiously optimistic about Seaweed's chances for eventual release.
The work of the Stranding Response Program at the Virginia Aquarium is vital to the future preservation of sea turtles like Seaweed. This team works long, difficult hours of rescue and rehab, in addition to the ongoing research needed to make decisions for future conservation work. This important program depends on generous financial gifts and like so many organizations, the Aquarium has felt the effects of COVID-19. If you are interested in being a part of this important conservation work, please consider giving. Rehabilitation can be costly, and we are ever grateful to our financial partners. You can help by giving HERE