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The First Oiled Sea Turtle Arrives May 18th, 2010
After what seemed a never ending period of preparation and being on “high alert stand by,” Audubon Nature Institute received the first sea turtle affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The sea turtle was a small Kemp’s Ridley, weighing just under two pounds, found 33 nautical miles off the coast of Louisiana. Apparently this little fellow was pretty hard to see - he was so coated in oil, he blended right in with what they refer to as ‘mousse’.
Once we received the phone call early in the day that the turtle (officially named LA-15) had been rescued, Michele Kelley and I went home to eat dinner and spend some quality time with our families since the feeling that this might be precious time was upon us. It seemed like the hours ticked by slowly as we waited for word that the LDWF boat carrying the turtle had docked in Venice, LA, meeting up with LDWF biologist who would transport it the rest of the way to Audubon Aquatic Center and into our custody.
9pm came and we finally had our first glimpse at the little turtle, coated in oil. Most of the turtle was a rust color. Audubon Nature Institute head veterinarian Dr. Robert MacLean started his evaluation by getting oil samples from the turtle’s carapace, or shell. Dr. MacLean then proceeded to draw blood samples, weigh and measure and give the turtle a good once over.
After Dr. MacLean was finished with his initial exam, the little turtle was handed to Michele Kelley for some ‘spa treatment’. This was a good ol’ fashion scrubbing with Dawn soap. Yes, the same Dawn you use to clean your dishes at home. As Michele and another vet were busy scrubbing away, we were all commenting on how a toothbrush would probably work better for such a small turtle. After what seemed like thirty minutes of everyone still talking about how we wish we had toothbrushes, Michele remembered she might have one in her car. Odd place for a toothbrush, but lucky for us and LA-15. It really did the trick of getting into all the little folds and wrinkles of skin and especially his head and face.
One final step in the cleaning process awaited little LA-15 and that was for the vets to clean out his mouth. You might think that this is a great place for the toothbrush to come in handy but guess again, we actually used gauze and mayonnaise. Surprised? Mayonnaise actually helps break down the oil for easier removal around the mouth and eyes.
So here sits LA-15, looking like a completely different turtle then when his adventure began. It’s bedtime, and most sea turtles are dry docked their first night. Dry docking is where you place the animal on padding such as a towel instead of placing in water. This allows animals that are weak to rest without fear of drowning. Well, little LA-15 didn’t want anything to do with being dry docked. After his scrubbing, he was full of personality and spunk, so the vet staff decided he was stable enough to be placed in very shallow water for the evening.
What will tomorrow hold? We never know, but we are ready for anything and everything. Until then:
"For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."~Baba Dioum