Patient Update: July

diamondback terrapin
Lucky on the haul out

LUCKY, the gray seal

Lucky, a juvenile male gray seal, was transferred to NMLC on May 30, 2013 by the New England Aquarium. He stranded in Gloucester, MA, and after a few days of monitored observation of his health on the beach, the New England Aquarium picked him up on May 30. Lucky came to NMLC in serious condition. He had severe alopecia, damage to his left hind flipper that eventually required a toe amputation, and nine different parasitic infections, including lung worm. He remained on gruel and in dry holding for his first few weeks and in late June finally began eating fish on his own in a small holding tank. He now resides in a larger tank after making immense progress due to antibiotics and tube feeding. He has almost shed the majority of his parasites and has finally put on some weight! He has been preliminary cleared for release by Dr. Sea Rogers Williams, NMLC Science Director & Associate Veterinarian. We are awaiting the results of a Morbilli virus test, and Lucky will undergo one last treatment of a dewormer medication.

Penny during a rounds exam

PENNY, the diamondback terrapin

Diamondback Terrapins are medium-sized salt marsh turtles found in salty water and marshes. They are the only brackish water species in Massachusetts and are currently on the Massachusetts Threatened Status List, due to once popular gourmet consumption and now habitat destruction.

Penny came to NMLC on June 11th all the way from Tuft’s University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. As cold-blooded reptiles, terrapins bury themselves in the sand and mud during the winter to stay warm. This is a type of hibernation known as “brumation.” Unfortunately for Penny, this winter’s severe winter storms washed her out of her burrow in February. Our goal is to acclimate her to a diet and water appropriate to her habitat prior to release. Penny is adjusting to a mix of freshwater and saltwater, but her carapace (shell) has been undergoing some issues. Her individual scutes have been slowly falling off, possibly as a delayed reaction from having been too cold. We are treating her daily with a Silver Sulfadiazine antibiotic cream. Penny has regained her appetite for clams and is happily swimming around in her brackish water while her scutes hopefully heal!

MIKE (MALLEUS) & IKE (INCUS), harbor seal pups

Malleus, also known as Mike, is a juvenile, two-month old harbor seal pup. He was rescued on May 15 by Allied Whale, College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME and transported to the University of New England, Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford, ME for initial care and treatment. During the course of his treatment, an ear discharge was noted so on June 24 Malleus was transferred to NMLC for diagnosis and treatment of suspected middle ear disease. NMLC is on the forefront of research into the diagnosis, treatment, and cause of this disease, about which little is known. NMLC’s first seal patient in our new hospital, Townsend, suffered from the same disease. After eight months of rehabilitation including three CT scans and two surgeries, Townsend, was successfully released on June 27, 2013. A canolography scan, or contrast radiograph, showed that Malleus’ ear infection is likely the severe middle ear type known as “otitis media”. This diagnosis will be confirmed by a pending CT scan prior to undergoing surgery to clear the middle ear. He is an adorable little guy who enjoys swimming in his pool, playing with his pal Incus (Ike) and eating lots of fish!

Ike, also known as Incus, is a male harbor seal pup that stranded May 16 on Granite Point in Bidderford Maine. He was rescued by the Marine Mammals of Maine and received initial treatment from the University of New England’s Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center. He was transferred to the National Marine Life Center on June 24 because of an ear discharge and possible middle ear disease. Upon arrival, Ike was diagnosed with a fungal infection of the outer ear which is a much less serious condition that can be treated by medicine and that does not require surgery. Ike has successfully completed antibiotic treatment and will remain here until putting on the proper weight (25 kg minimum) to be released.

NORTHERN RED BELLIED COOTERS, endangered fresh-water turtles

The Northern red-bellied cooter population of Massachusetts lives more than 250 miles from the rest of the species who inhabit areas of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina and were listed under the Endangered Species Act since 1980. In 1984, due to habitat loss, predation and pollution, a mere 300 remained in Northern ecosystems. Thanks to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program’s innovative Head-Start program, the population of these turtles has rebounded. The Head-Start program works with local conservation organizations, such as NMLC, who welcome hatchlings in the fall and provide warm water and food for 8 months to promote growth among the turtles. Kept in an 82 – 86 degree tank, they are provided with as much romaine and red leaf lettuce as they will eat.  When they are released back to their natural habitats in early summer, chance of survival is increased due to weight and development gained in captivity. Survival can increase from 1% to over 70%!  Almost 3,500 turtles have been released since 1984.

On Tuesday, May 30, head-started cooters were brought to NMLC from all over Massachusetts for the annual “turn-in”. Weights, measurements and overall body score are taken prior to release to ensure proper survival. Unfortunately, eight turtles out of the entire turn in, five with metabolic bone disease and three with fungal disease, were unable to be released. The five turtles with metabolic bone disease – named Paul, John, George, Ringo and Yoko – receive daily calcium treatments and ample light to counteract this disease. This disease is generally caused by improper husbandry and lack of UVB light (which helps the turtles produce the Vitamin D necessary to metabolize calcium). We lost one of the five turtles, Ringo, but the rest are slowly growing and increasing their lettuce intake, while basking in their UV light. Now and then, they even get a trip in their outside pool for some sunbathing.

The three cooters suffering from fungal disease – Jude, Mr. Kite and Sgt. Pepper – have made significant improvements. They have two more treatments of an antifungal medication and will hopefully be released by the end of the summer.

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