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Seven 'Cold-Stunned' Sea Turtles Rescued In Florida, Four In Need Of Tumor Removal Surgery

Feb 16, 2016 04:35 PM EST

Seven young green sea turtles are being treated at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, after being rescued from frigid cold waters. Hospital officials expect more cold-stunned, or hypothermic, turtles will soon be delivered. 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff rescued the turtles, which were found swimming lethargically in -57 degrees water. The sea turtles' internal body temperatures largely depend on the temperature of their environment. This means that if the water they swim in or the land they stay on is too cold, the sea turtles can become sluggish and even die.

Unfortunately, the seven individuals were found amid others that had already died from the cold. Of those that were rescued and brought to the hospital, four will undergo surgery to remove tumors caused by fibropapillomatosis -- a herpes virus specific to sea turtles. Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach also reported that some of the animals died after arriving.

This is not the first time doctors at Marathon's Turtle Hospital have treated cold-stunned sea turtles. Last year, 172 sea turtles were admitted, and 93 were treated in 2014, according to the Daily News.

Last month, eight cold-stunned turtles were brought to Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach. The animals had washed up on North Carolina Shoreline, and after only a month of care are showing signs of improvement. 

"During their stay with us here at Ripley's Aquarium, each turtle has received antibiotics, blood tests, weight measurements and constant observation to ensure their return to normal eating patterns and good health," Tim Handsel, Director of Husbandry at Ripley's Aquarium, said in a statement

However, it could take up to two years for the turtles to reach full-recovery, depending on the severity of their tumors. 

Fibropapillomatosis is a debilitating disease that can rapidly spread across a turtle's body. As tumors grow, they interfere with a turtle's swimming ability, vision, feeding, and potential escape from predators. However, if tumors spread to the animal's lungs or kidneys their condition becomes fatal, as they cannot be removed. 

For some unknown reason, fibropapillomatosis is most commonly found in green sea turtles. While researchers have made strides in monitoring and treating the disease, what exactly causes the tumors remains a mystery. 

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