Health & Environment

Texas A&M Students Help With Sea Turtle Rescue

Two veterinary students helped care for endangered sea turtles found in Massachusetts.
By Megan Myers, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences December 18, 2020

three people holding a sea turtle look at an ultrasound screen
Dr. Taylor Yaw (second from right) and student Melanie Pearson perform an ultrasound on a sea turtle.

Texas State Aquarium

 

Two Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) students had the rare opportunity to care for endangered sea turtles found on Massachusetts beaches suffering from hypothermia and other complications.

On Dec. 7, more than 120 cold-stunned turtles were found in Cape Cod, Mass. Because there were too many for the local New England Aquarium to treat on its own, the majority of the turtles were flown the same day to accredited facilities under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for further care and conservation efforts.

Twenty of these turtles were brought to the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Rescue Center in Corpus Christi, where fourth-year veterinary student Melanie Pearson was doing an externship to learn more about aquarium and wildlife medicine. She was joined Monday by third-year veterinary student Kaitlyn Upton, who volunteered to help care for the turtles.

The two students worked with the aquarium’s veterinary team, which included Dr. Taylor Yaw ’14 and veterinary technologist Morgan Rosenbaum, a graduate of Texas A&M University–Kingsville’s veterinary technology program.

Dr. Taylor Yaw examines a sea turtle’s eyes.
Dr. Taylor Yaw examines a sea turtle’s eyes.

Texas State Aquarium

 

CVMBS associate professor Dr. J. Jill Heatley also assisted the team by bringing important blood testing and analysis equipment from College Station to collect samples and determine trace element and metal levels in the turtles.

As soon as the turtles arrived, the team sprang into action.

“What was really important to us when they first arrived was getting blood samples from all of them, getting X-rays, doing an ultrasound, and just generally assessing their physical condition,” Pearson said. “We knew that they probably all had pneumonia and were possibly very critically ill, so we really wanted to get a complete picture immediately.

“We also wanted to get them into water as soon as possible because, anatomically, sea turtles are just not designed to be out of water for long periods of time. They can get some bruising on their plastron, or the bottom part of their shell,” she said. “So with all those things in mind, we essentially set up an assembly line.”

student wearing face mask examining a turtle in man's hands
Melanie Pearson examines one of the 20 sea turtles.

Texas State Aquarium

The turtles received fluids to treat their dehydration and medicine to treat pneumonia, and were sent to the Wildlife Rescue Center’s pools to fully recover, a process that could take months or up to a year.

While the Texas State Aquarium regularly treats endangered wildlife, it is not a common experience for veterinary students.

“I’ve worked with wildlife and endangered species before, but lately it hasn’t been as much on my mind because I’ve been so focused on getting through veterinary school,” Pearson said. “This whole experience has completely rekindled my passion for it and for my desire to work with wildlife species that have the chance to be released back into the wild after treatment. My goal is to continue to make that a part of my career as I move forward.”

Likewise, according to Yaw, training students is a valuable and rewarding aspect of his job at the aquarium.

“Since arriving at the Texas State Aquarium and Wildlife Rescue program, it has been a personal mission to get our veterinary and veterinary technology student programs up and running so that we can actively be a part of training the next generation of aquarium and wildlife medical professionals,” Yaw said. “Getting to work with Aggie students has really come full circle for me here at the aquarium and wildlife rescue. It was only a few years ago that I was sitting in their shoes, as I too traveled to Corpus Christi as a student to learn more about aquatic animal and wildlife medicine.”

Media contact: Jennifer Gauntt, 979-862-4216, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu

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