A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 28 Mar 2009
Source: News-Journal online [edited]
Illnesses, deaths baffle marine center staff
Turtles fill bubbling pools at the Marine Science Center in Ponce
Inlet, Florida, these days as its staff scrambles to keep up with mass
strandings along Florida's northeast coast. About 170 turtles, both
greens and loggerheads, have been found either dead or sick and
emaciated on beaches from Jacksonville to Brevard County since January
That's more than 3 times the normal number, said Allen Foley, a
biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
About half the turtles were green turtles and half were loggerheads.
Foley said that is also unusual, because normally they get 2 stranded
loggerheads for every green turtle.
The science center has received 48 turtles since
24 Feb 2009, said Tammy Langer, an environmental
specialist. "We are terribly swamped," Langer
said Thursday [26 Mar 2009], in between giving
the up to 3 times daily tube feedings required by
some of the turtles. The science center mixes a
blend of ground fish, Pedialyte, Ensure and other
ingredients to help boost the turtles' calorie
intake and promote weight gain. "We've lost a
couple, but for the most part they're doing
good," Langer said. They're gaining weight and
some are now eating on their own.
The center had 4 loggerheads and 12 green turtles Thursday. The rest
were sent to other rehabilitation centers in Florida and southern
Georgia, because the center's small facility in Ponce Inlet is full.
A pathologist at the University of Florida's
College of Veterinary Medicine has examined many
of the dead turtles, trying to figure out what
caused the mass stranding. Foley said they don't
have any answers yet. "It might be some type of
toxin from an algae bloom," he said. "But that's
just a guess for lack of anything else." No
single disease, bacteria or viral disease has
been found in the turtles, he said. If the cause
is a harmful algal bloom or a toxin, researchers
might never pinpoint it, Foley said. "We can only
test for a few and there are thousands out there."
Langer has noticed most of the turtles have
secondary problems, such as deep gashes in their
shells from collisions with boats or heavy
barnacle growth. Whatever the cause, Foley said
it doesn't seem to be killing anything else.
That's an important clue because some toxic
blooms, such as red tide, affect many kinds of
animals including dolphins, manatees and birds.
On Wednesday, 3 more turtles arrived at the science center. On
Thursday 26 Mar 2009] , the center received a turtle that died later.
But there were no new arrivals by 5 p.m. Friday [27 Mar 2009]. If the
center went a day with no new turtles, it would be the 1st since the
[Byline: Dinah Voyles Pulver]
HealthMap Alerts via ProMED-mail
[Clearly this is an unusual event in several
ways: the numbers, the species, and the ratio of
the species. The fact that other species are not
affected may help rule out red tide poisoning and
domoic acid. It does not rule out starvation and
secondary infection, either viral or bacterial.
Cases like this are very frustrating, but we hope
the caregivers and the scientist are able to find
a cause and therefore, hopefully, preventive measures.
A photo of a green turtle may be viewed at:
A photo of a loggerhead turtle may be viewed at:
A map of Ponce Inlet, Florida, may be seen at:
Die-off, sea turtles, dolphins - Bangladesh 20070207.0480
Undiagnosed deaths, sea turtle - USA (FL) 20060916.2631
Turtle die-off, red tide - El Salvador 20060325.0920
Undiagnosed turtle die-off - Panama, El Salvador 20060211.0459
Red tide - USA (FL)(05): sea turtles 20050819.2437
Food poisoning, fatal, sea turtle - Cambodia: RFI 20050615.1682]