Dot, our resident Green Sea Turtle, has been off exhibit for the better part of a year. A favorite among members and visitors alike, her departure from her normal habitat was met with concern over her health.
While we are happy to inform our friends, members and follower’s that Dot is doing quite well, we also wanted to share a bit about her backstory and how she came to be at the River Museum, including why she is not yet back in her exhibit.
In July of 2013, a juvenile Green Sea Turtle was discovered stranded on Little Cumberland Island in Georgia. The turtle was promptly transferred to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) where it was determined she had suffered due to an old fracture to the mid-caudal carapace, likely due to a boat strike.
The turtle, later named Dot, was completely healed from the injury; however, damage to her spinal cord caused rear flipper paralysis and decreased mobility in the GI tract, causing gas to build-up. The condition is widely referred to as “Bubble Butt Syndrome” and was coined by the Sea Turtle Hospital in 1987 after the hospital treated its first patient with buoyancy issues. The patient’s name…Bubble Butt.
In some boat strike cases, air builds up underneath the shell, causing the animal to float. This floating causes the sea turtle to slowly starve as it disrupts the animal’s ability to dive and secure food. For this reason, many sea turtles with this condition are unable to be released into the wild. Such was the case with Dot.
Dot came to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in June of 2014 and is the star of our Gulf of Mexico exhibit, where we house several species of fish commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dot has been a pleasure for staff to rehab, and the team take great pleasure in helping introduce visitors from across the Midwest to an animal they would not normally see. Being able to talk to guests about sea turtles in the wild, their impact on the environment, and the threat of extinction brings visitors closer to these animals. Seeing a sea turtle in our Gulf habitat can create a lasting impact on a visitor and how that visitor thinks about her or his environmental actions and the impact those actions have on animals like Dot.
While it is amazing to work with a sea turtle in a captive setting, there are also many challenges when housing a rehabbed sea turtle. Dot requires constant care by husbandry and vet staff, and it is not uncommon for her to be pulled off exhibit for specialized care due to her paralysis and buoyancy issues.
Dot’s buoyancy must be constantly monitored. To help assist with her buoyancy, staff have epoxied a hand-sewn pack to her shell. The pack is made from old wet suit weight pack material. This allows staff to safely increase and decrease the weight in her pack to help with fluctuating buoyancy as it arises. In addition to buoyancy issues, Dot’s lack of mobility creates issues within her GI tract. She has a high risk for impaction and may not digest all nutrients like normal. This can slow Dot’s healing ability. It can also make her deficient in essential vitamins. For these reasons, staff provide her with supplements, and she has regular blood panels. Dot has also ventured off-site to the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Clinic for treatment after contracting a skin infection from a sore on her paralyzed flipper.
Dot is now fully recovered, and it is staff’s hope to see her safely back in the Gulf of Mexico Aquarium before the end of the year. In the meantime, she continues to be well cared for and monitored behind the scenes.