I saw the unabridged version of this video yesterday (click on highlighted phrase to see the video I’m talking about), watching while they tugged on this sea turtle’s nose with a pair of pliers for eight minutes. The turtle was clearly in agony and bleeding with each tug over these many long minutes. It was terrible to watch in its entirety.
The “surgeons” are marine biologists, both students and graduates in the field, out on an expedition. They are in Costa Rica. They are part of a larger organization, and there are other sponsors and professionals involved. By their own report, they were hours from shore.
Even given all that, I have very mixed emotions about the course of action they pursued. The eight-minute version of the video gave no indication that they stopped and had any kind of discussion about what to do when they realized they were dealing with a plastic object and not a worm as they had originally thought. They got a couple different pliers from the toolbox and just kept pulling and twisting until the thing finally popped out, all four or five inches of it.
My objection to this impulsive extraction is that this foreign body could have been there for months or years. The fact that it didn’t pull out easily indicated that it had been there long enough to have caused scar tissue formation. Take a look at the right end of this object and notice that it doesn’t even resemble a plastic straw anymore. There were adhesions and calcifications as the body tried to encapsulate it. It may have been stuck to bone or the lining of a sinus. There may have been chronic infection. The object of unknown length could have extended far enough into the reptile’s sinus cavity to have punctured it. It could have even extended into the brain. Leaving a foreign body in place and undisturbed can actually be the preferred course of treatment in these cases so as not to cause further damage, bleeding, and systemic infection. They had no idea of the shape, consistency, position or length of this object when they started attempting to pull it out.
Getting professional help would have required a long boat ride to a marine veterinarian or a call for assistance to get one to come to them and evaluate the situation. Considering that they were sea turtle researchers, making this their life work, it seems to be logical to assume that they had marine veterinarians in their cell phone contact information. There had to have been other professionals involved with this research venture who could have lent some advice and discussion of the options. No such contact was made. One of the researchers, Chris Figgener, mentions fines and penalties associated with moving a sea turtle, and I just have to think that seeking professional assistance for an endangered injured animal would waive such penalties. They tossed that consideration aside.
I would have preferred to see this magnificent reptile appropriately transported to a professional setting. Surely, sea turtle researchers should be aware of how to transport a sick or injured turtle. Turtles can be out of the water. They don’t breathe through gills. I would have liked to see this creature evaluated with x-ray or ultrasound to determine the size, shape and position of this foreign object and assess any potential complications associated with it’s removal. Pain management would have been appropriate. In spite of a number of Facebook commenters saying that turtles can’t be anesthetized, my research indicates that they can and should be if they’re in pain.
I can’t call these people heros for what they impulsively did. They may have caused more harm than good in spite of their good intentions. They returned the sea turtle to the ocean once it appeared to be breathing okay and the bleeding had stopped. I hope that it survived the pain and trauma of the ordeal and no complications claimed its life later.
So many commenters on this Facebook posting criticized lazy humans for littering and tossing their rubbish in the ocean. These folks do not realize that a single person dropping a straw on the beach most likely did not cause this problem. The problem is much larger than this. The problem is the tons and tons of trash we generate globally on a daily basis. We can put it into waste receptacles without fail, but where does it go once the trash management companies pick it up? It doesn’t just disappear then. It may be out of sight and out of our minds, but it’s dumped somewhere. Sometimes those places are in landfills near bodies of water. Sometimes the oceans themselves have been used as dumping grounds. It’s just one more way that we’re destroying this planet.
No turtle should have to endure what this one did because of a man-made object. I hope that he survives our human meddling in his environment and our crude, and perhaps misguided, attempts to help him out of a bad situation. Godspeed, Lepidochelys olivacea.