Seaweed and Seahorse

It has been a busy summer for the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program. From hooked sea turtles to hatchlings, they have seen a lot. Unfortunately, it isn't always good. Here are the stories of two loggerhead sea turtles that our team recovered: "Seaweed" and "Seahorse."

Seaweed was hooked by a recreational angler on July 4, 2019 at Buckroe Fishing Pier. This 60 pound loggerhead ingested multiple hooks and had a crack in its carapace (top shell). This type of blunt trauma wound is often found in turtles injured by vessels. Our veterinary team determined that Seaweed would have the best chance of a full recovery under their close medical care, but things were (and still are) cautiously optimistic. Seaweed was so grievously injured by the vessel interaction that it even warranted an MRI. Thanks to our friends at Sentara Virginia Beach General, who graciously donated the MRI procedure, and Dr. Doug Brown of Hampton Roads Radiology, who volunteered his time to assist with the imaging protocols and provide assistance in interpreting the imaging, we were able to further inspect the injury and assess internal healing. While the rehabilitation could continue for more than a year, we remain hopeful that Seaweed will be strong and healthy enough for release.

"Seahorse," is the loggerhead sea turtle rescued from the ocean near Dam Neck. Seahorse's fresh wounds were consistent with injuries caused by a boat propeller. His carapace wounds were more severe than those on Seaweed and affected both his backbone and left lung. (The spine and lungs of a sea turtle are located along the carapace, meaning any top shell wound can be critical.) Seahorse was given an extensive examination and CT scan to better understand the severity of the wounds, and the most humane course of action was to euthanize the turtle. This carefully considered decision recognized that Seahorse was unlikely to survive his wounds, let alone recover to be released, and would instead suffer unnecessarily.

Seaweed's and Seahorse's stories are sad, but we have chosen to use them as an opportunity to educate and encourage change. In Virginia, the primary human-related cause of sea turtle strandings is motorized watercraft. We do our best to rescue and treat turtles injured by vessels, but the likelihood of a sea turtle surviving such injuries is low (even if the turtle is recovered alive).

While we want to encourage everyone to enjoy coastal waters (including boating, swimming, and surfing), it is important to do so responsibly. Here are some simple steps we can take to boat safely and responsibly and respect wildlife.

  • Be knowledgeable of what lives under the surface. Especially with a bright sun glare, it can be difficult to see what is in the water. Be aware of what animals might be feeding in the area where you are boating. Wearing polarized sunglasses can also help.
  • Pay careful attention to the water ahead of you.
    Remain hyperaware and if you spot marine animals, be considerate and slow your speed.

  • Post a look-out person to assist the captain in looking for wildlife.
    Turtles can be hard to spot when they come to the surface to breathe so it can be helpful to more than one set of eyes dedicated to looking for them.

  • Slow down if the water is rough or if visibility is limited.
  • Consider using a non-motorized vessel like a kayak.
  • If you hit something with your boat, respond responsibly. Stop and look around the area for at least 15 minutes. If you see an injured turtle, call the Stranding Response Hotline (757-385-7575) and standby so rescuers can know where to go. Take pictures or video if you can do so without getting too close to the turtle.