HONOLULU — After being struck by a vessel and stranded at Maha‘ulepu, the prognosis for the 150-pound, green-sea turtle was poor.
The animal was rescued from the beach and transported to O‘ahu to be examined by a qualified sea turtle veterinarian that works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
There was hope that there might be a chance the turtle could survive its injuries and receive the necessary treatment and rehabilitation to be returned to the ocean.
Dr. Gregg Levine, an NOAA contract veterinarian, received the turtle at the Veterinary Centers of America in Kane‘ohe Wednesday night.
He has examined many of the 22 green-sea turtles who have been struck by boat propellers, broadsided by boats themselves, hydrofoils or other ocean vessels so far this year.
Unfortunately, most sea turtles struck by boats do not survive. This year only one turtle was sent to the Maui Ocean Center Marine Institute for Rehabilitation before being released back to the ocean to live another day.
“As a veterinarian, it’s quite an honor to have the opportunity to treat an animal like a sea turtle,” Levine said.
”They are such ancient creatures with so much instinctual knowledge. To work with such animals and the amazing people who respond to these animals in need of assistance is amazing,” he said.
”Helping an injured sea turtle return to the wild is a highlight of my professional career,” Levine said before examining the latest boat-strike victim.
When Shandell Brunson, NOAA’s Sea Turtle Stranding coordinator, arrived with the turtle at the veterinary clinic, the patient was barely moving, lethargic and barely breathing.
Levine carefully transported the big turtle into an examination room. The most-obvious injury was a large wound that exposed a large portion of the lungs.
However, more serious was suspected injury to the spinal cord. The turtle’s rear flippers were hyperextended. The flippers appeared glued together, and the turtle was unable to move them.
Levine explained these were clear signs of damage to the spinal cord. Given the severity of the trauma to the shell and the apparent spinal-cord injury, the decision was to humanely euthanize this large, beautiful and otherwise healthy animal.
“Whatever the outcome, far too many turtles are being struck by boats and other vessels,” said Ed Underwood, administrator of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
”We need everyone to slow down and pay attention,” Underwood said. The division, in partnership with NOAA, conducts continuous boater education and outreach to explain the devastating consequences to Hawai‘i’s precious turtle population when boats strike.
Many of the boat strikes happen in relatively shallow waters, and typically in or near small-boat harbors and boat ramps, where speed limits and no-wake zones are always in effect.
To report an injured or stranded sea turtle or other marine animal, call the statewide Marine Wildlife Hotline, 1-888-256-9840.