Deceased Loggerhead Sea Turtle’s Legacy Lives On

A 300 pound adult female loggerhead was rescued on Friday, May 25, 2012 in the surf off Jupiter Island. With the assistance of FWC as well as police and fire officials, the turtle was rescued and transported to Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) in Juno Beach. The following afternoon, Betsy, the name LMC staff gave to the sea turtle, was found unresponsive. Staff veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Mettee decided to conduct an ultrasound based on the turtle’s life stage. It was found that Betsy was carrying eggs. Dr. Mettee, with the assistance of rehabilitation staff, removed the eggs shortly after. The clutch of eggs was relocated to a nest chamber on the local beach and monitored by the LMC research team.

Dr. Nancy Mettee transported Betsy to the University of Florida Marine Animal Diagnostic Laboratory in Gainesville to perform a necropsy with Dr. Brian Stacy, veterinary pathologist. Betsy was in excellent body condition with no external evidence of trauma; however, the necropsy revealed multiple skull fractures and a sub dural hematoma, along with a cerebral edema and blood vessel rupture along the left optic nerve. This injury was most likely caused by a boat collision due to the force needed to break these bones. This blunt force trauma resulted in intracranial bleeding which was the ultimate cause of death.

Betsy’s nest chamber was being monitored by LMC researchers during daily surveys, and on Saturday, July 21st, a research biologist noticed hatchling tracks coming from the nest. Researchers returned three days later to excavate the nest to determine the hatching success. Typically Loggerhead nests average 100 eggs with approximately an 80 percent hatch rate. Twelve of the eggs had hatched with eleven of the hatchlings making their way to the ocean. The staff brought back a sample size of ten unhatched eggs for Dr. Charlie Manire, LMC Director of Research and Rehabilitation, to examine. There was no evidence of development, said Manire. It was unclear as to the cause of the undeveloped eggs.

This was the first documented time in the history of LMC that the center has successfully collected eggs from a deceased turtle and the eggs have hatched. “It is always sad to have a sea turtle die, but good to see something positive come from such a tragedy” said Dr. Nancy Mettee. Along with the emergence of the hatchlings, the necropsy provided a wealth of information on nesting female loggerheads. Full tissue samples were taken and will be added to the growing database of sea turtle information. With the cutting edge research and rehabilitation taking place at the center it is successes such as this that keep us inspired that we are making a real difference in sea turtle conservation.