Thursday, May 23, 2013

Turtle guts

     After a day’s delay, we performed the autopsy on a sea turtle that passed away last November. Disgustingly, the only preservation it underwent was an industrial food freezer. This was probably the smelliest thing I have ever smelled. It was well worth it, though. I learned a lot, and it was so interesting to see in real a lot of the anatomical features that I learned about in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.    Here is a quick recap of the morning:
  •        Turtle aesophagus is specially designed to not allow regurgitation of live prey and to prevent stinging from cnidarian, one of its main food sources.
  •        Fibrin ‘scar’ tissue is not a good thing to find in and around wounds. It stops actual cicatrization from happening. Sadly, we found an abundance of it in this turtle, around incisions and inside the intestines in huge chunks
  •         This turtle had been found with a hook in its mouth, and the entire digestive track contained a line that exited from the anus
  •        There is a special veterinary technique used in turtle surgery that was developed here in Lampedusa by scientists from the University of Bari. It consists of making incisions on the pectoral side near the line between the flippers and the plastrone to temporarily remove the digestive tract from the inside of the turtle. Thus examinations and procedures can be done on the insides of the turtle without having to completely disrupt the fragile and slower-healing plastrone.
  •        The aforementioned procedure was successful in removing the line in this turtle, but because of a few vital mistakes, and the preexisting weakness of this starved turtle, the specimen died within a few months of the surgery.
  •      The turtle had been found with many infections and was suffering from malnutrition, as the fishing line was obstructing digestion and disabling consumption.
  •        The surgical procedure was carried out indelicately and seems to have broken or at least nicked part of the lower left kidney
  •        There was very little, if any, actual healing of any of the incisions or injuries that the turtle suffered, probably because of its depleted immune system and malnutrition
  •        Blood was found inside the digestive tract, suggesting an ulcer or incomplete/incorrect healing of the problems that had been found in the digestive tract
  •       The immediate cause of death was determined by opening the trachea. In this case, the turtle died from asphyxiation. The foam inside shows the presence of seawater in the respiratory tract. The turtle was likely weakened to the point of not being able to surface for air.

Also interestingly, in loggerhead turtles, unless the turtle is over about 30 years of age, the only anatomical difference between sexes is the presence of testicles or eggs. These are only found inside. There is almost no way to tell sexes apart besides dissection because hormones are unstable and constantly changing in both sexes.

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