Hospital Visit

Turtle ImageWith a stainless steel operating table, an IV stand, an x-ray machine, and other medical equipment, it could have been a doctor’s office anywhere. But the patients treated there have flippers, are able to stay underwater for hours, and can weigh several hundred pounds.

Unlike Merina and the other showoffs at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, the residents at the Turtle Hospital a few miles away were more reserved and didn’t seem to care they had an audience. Maybe we lacked the proper bedside manner.

The Hospital’s goal is to rescue, rehabilitate, and then reintroduce the turtles back into their native environment. If one can’t survive in the wild, he or she becomes a permanent ward of the Hospital and makes its home in a 100,000 gallon saltwater swimming pool.

The most common ailment afflicting the sea turtles is fibropapilloma. The tumors are cauliflower-like in appearance and grow on soft tissue, including the eyes and mouth which makes feeding problematic, and have to be surgically removed. Several turtles had been hit by boats, with gashes that will never fully heal visible on their shells. Others ingested trash or fishing hooks, while some had to have flippers amputated after becoming tangled in fishing line.

Since it opened in 1986, the Hospital has treated and released more than 1,000 sea turtles of four different species: Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley, all of which are endangered. Sea turtles are some of the oldest creatures in existence. Perhaps if we modern-day humans clean up our acts they’ll be around for a while longer.

Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key, Florida

An injured turtle with a missing flipper and wearing a weight to correct bouyancy problems (left). The emergency room where he was saved (right).

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