Stomach gas made diving difficult for injured sea turtle, Mississippi Aquarium scientists say

Published 11:02 am Friday, November 26, 2021

An injured sea turtle at the Mississippi Aquarium is getting medicine to reduce intestinal gas because a buildup was keeping her from diving.

Banner the green sea turtle was rescued in Florida after being severely injured by a boat propeller. After four years of rehabilitation, staffers at the Florida Aquarium decided the turtle could never be safely released, and she was sent last summer to Mississippi.

Green sea turtles’ vegetarian diet makes them unique and also tints their fat. They were named “green” because of the color of their fat, not their shells, which can be dark brown, grey, or olive.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Banner’s big problem was that her hind end was buoyant, making it harder to dive, Dr. Alexa Delaune, the Mississippi Aquarium’s vice president of veterinary services, said in a news release about how the aquarium is working to conserve endangered sea turtles.

That problem recently became more severe, so Banner had a CT scan at Singing River Hospital in Gulfport.

“We were able to see that there was a lot of gas built up in Banner’s intestines so we put her on a medication to reduce the gas in the intestines,” Delaune wrote. She said in an email that Banner was put on the anti-gas medication about two weeks ago.

“It seems to be helping because she’s spending more time diving and resting on the bottom” of the 30-foot- (nine-meter-) deep tank where she lives, Delaune wrote. Sharks, stingrays and a variety of fish share the 400,000-gallon (1.5 million- liter) habitat called Aquatic Wonders.

Veterinarians think that the propeller may have damaged nerves going to Banner’s intestinal tract, Delaune said in an email.

“We won’t be able to cure the problem but we can manage it to make sure it doesn’t get worse,” she wrote in the news release.

The Florida Aquarium had believed Banner was male, but her short tail and lack of front claws made Mississippi staffers think otherwise. An endoscopy confirmed her sex.

All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are endangered or threatened.

As part of its conservation work, the aquarium tried last month to save a threatened loggerhead sea turtle hooked by an angler in Alabama. A post-mortem exam found three places where fishing hooks had cut open its small intestine and that fishing line had bunched up its intestines.

“While we could not save this sea turtle, we will use her case to teach people about the dangers of boat injuries and fishing gear ingestion to sea turtles,” Delaune wrote.

The aquarium is currently caring for two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle species. One has a shoulder infection that restricts movement and the other has a severe lung infection.

The New England Aquarium in Massachusetts asked the Mississippi Aquarium to take them, making room for turtles likely to strand this winter, Delaune wrote.

“Both turtles are on medications and doing very well at this time. When they have completed their medical treatment we will release them here in the Gulf of Mexico,” she wrote.