Nearly 40 sea turtles recovering at UF after temperatures plummet
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 at 11:33 p.m.
Sea turtles stunned by the cold received a warm welcome Friday at the University of Florida.
Nearly 40 turtles are recovering at UF's College of Veterinary Medicine in pools placed in a room where the heat was cranked up near 80 degrees. They were among the dozens of turtles found floating in the Mosquito Lagoon near Titusville after cold water shocked their systems.
"They're not quite out of the woods," said Dr. Mike Walsh, associate director of aquatic animal health at UF. "They're still recovering. They need some time."
With a growing number of cold-stunned turtles being found, UF brought about 25 turtles to campus Thursday and another 14 Friday. The juvenile green turtles are expected to be kept a week or so until conditions warm. Some of the most serious cases might be kept around, while the rest will be returned to the water.
"We'd like to keep them in captivity as short a time as possible," said Dr. Brian Stacy, a veterinarian with UF and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
UF agreed to take turtles afflicted with fibropapilloma, a viral disease that causes tumors. The tumors can impede their movement, impair their sight and cause other complications.
Three of the most serious cases were sent from UF to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the three facilities in the state equipped to perform laser surgery to remove the growths.
More than 160 cold-stunned turtles have been found floating this week in the Mosquito Lagoon, taxing the ability of aquariums and other facilities to handle them. The phenomenon happens off Florida's coast when temperatures dip to unusually low levels, stressing the tropical systems of the species. Previous instances occurred during cold snaps in 1989 and 2001.
"If they're talking about orange trees being killed, then the sea turtles are coming up," said Walsh, who dealt with the previous cases during his time at Sea World.
The youngest of the turtles at UF are three to six years old with shells the size of dinner plates. The bigger turtles, with shells a few feet long, are on the cusp of adulthood.
UF veterinarians took blood from the turtles and conducted exams. One turtle had a body temperature of 53 degrees, which Walsh said was more than 20 degrees less than normal.
"Their body temperature is going to depend on the water they're sitting in," he said.
The rescued turtles were placed in pools with the room's high temperature warming up the water. SCP Pool Supplies in Gainesville sold water filters to the college at cost.
UF is providing space and resources. Veterinary students will help care for the turtles, helping teach them while providing needed assistance.
"There's not a lot of money that helps with this," Walsh said. "We're lucky we have a lot of volunteers."
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