Monday, March 16th, 2015 was a happy day for sea turtle rehabilitators at the NC Aquariums and the Virginia Aquarium. They had the opportunity to watch sea turtles they have worked hard to help recover from the potentially fatal effects of cold stun syndrome return to the sea. Eighteen sea turtles rehabilitated by the NC Aquariums joined twelve animals rehabilitated at the Virginia Aquarium, on a special ride on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Nantuckett. The ship’s Captain, Lt. Elizabeth Gillis and Executive Officer Lt. J.G. Natalie Rothman ferried the lucky turtles to the Gulf Stream Current, where they were released into balmy 22.8 ˚C temperature waters, using a newly implemented ramp/slide that worked well to safely guide the animals down from the ship’s deck.
A sea turtle uses the new slide/ramp release to return to the sea.
On board were a cadre of veterinarians including EMC residents and graduate students working with the NC Aquariums veterinarian Dr. Emily Christiansen who supervised the medical aspects of the transport and release. Also observing the release were an excited select group of the many people who worked hard to rehabilitate the turtles that were shipped to the south for recovery and rehabilitation as large numbers of affected turtles overwhelmed sea turtle rescue and recovery centers along the Northeastern U.S. coast.
Crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Nantuckett with some of the lucky sea turtles being released after recovery from cold stun syndrome.
The released turtles were damaged when sudden onslaughts of polar vortex driven cold plunged Northeastern onshore water temperatures to temperatures that stunned and killed many sea turtles caught unable to escape to warmer deeper waters. The release, coordinated by NC State Sea Turtle Biologist Dr. Matthew Godfrey and the U.S. Coast Guard went off without a hitch, and saved the sea turtles from a long swim to find warmer waters.
Two world class programs at NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine came together to break new ground in fish medicine, and at the same time return vision to the left eye of River, a sunfish in the collection of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. River’s right eye was effectively blind as a result of a trauma induced cataract. The lens of the eye was white and opaque, blocking light from reaching the retina.
Dr. Brian Gilger, a professor of ophthalmology performed the surgery on the 5 year old fish using similar techniques and equipment used in cataract surgeries on mammals. A phacoemulsifier was used to remove most of the lens, and a few small, very dense remnants were removed manually through a small incision. Shown above is Dr. Gilger preparing to perform the surgery on River, who is in the foreground hooked up to his life support and anesthesia machine positioned under the surgical microscope that Dr. Gilger used to perform the surgery.
Throughout the surgery, River was maintained on general anesthetic by members of NCSU’s internationally recognized aquatic medicine team using a type of anesthesia machine developed at NCSU many years ago. The machine circulates anesthetic laden water past the gills of the fish so that it can breathe throughout surgical procedures and continually receive small doses of anesthetic, much in the manner of a gas anesthesia machine used for people. Dr. Greg Lewbart, a professor of aquatic medicine, and Dr. Laura Adamovicz, the current intern in the NCSU Exotic Animal Medicine Service provided the anesthesia needed to keep the fish from moving during the delicate microsurgery. Dr. Dan Dombrowski, veterinarian for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences assisted with the anesthesia and also managed the post surgical care of River.
Dr. Adamovicz was the lead author on a recent publication in the Journal of Fish Diseases describing the technique and the successful outcome of the case.