Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)
Stranding Location: Myrtle Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Arrival Date: 9/21/2021
Weight: 2.89 kg (6.3 lbs)
This patient was hooked by a fisher at the Myrtle Beach State Park fishing pier in the afternoon on September 21, 2021. The park ranger was alerted and responded to the call to assess the animal’s situation and possibly remove the hook themselves. The small circle hook was stuck in the beak, and the angle of the hook made it difficult for them to remove on site. Vicki Hardwick, DNR permit holder and transporter, brought this little turtle to the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center™, arriving around 4 p.m.
This turtle really “graveled” us into naming them after a boring rock. Gravel arrived ready to put up a fight. They had been moving around in their bin the entire drive and were a bit tangled up in the towels, then they would not sit still for an exam, radiograph, weight, or for us to pull their blood. We ultimately got about 1.7 mls of blood which was better than nothing and super vet tech Whitney Daniel made every drop of it count for analysis. While the blood was being processed, Dr. Shane Boylan did a physical exam and looked over the radiograph. The main thing Dr. Boylan looked at was the leader line and hook stuck in their beak. The hook was small which made it a bit difficult to twist out of the beak/mouth, but Dr. Boylan was able to do so quickly and with no sedation. As Dr. Boylan was nearly finished pulling out the hook, Gravel decided they still wanted it and bit back down on the hook once more before Dr. Boylan fully pulled it out of their mouth. Gravel then received fluids, antibiotics, and injectable vitamins before going into a shallow tank of water for the night.
While circle hooks are often recommended for use to prevent hooking a turtle, it is a bit misleading in the reasoning. You may often hear that circle hooks are easier to remove, and you’re less likely to hook a turtle if you use one. Circle hooks are not universally easier to remove; circle hooks are actually more difficult to remove than J-hooks because we have to make such a wide arc to pull them backwards out of the hole. Most of the time we do not have the luxury of that kind of space. However, circle hooks are less likely to snag deep in the turtle’s throat, making them easier to remove if they are shallower in the mouth. So next time you go fishing, be aware of the best type of hook, bait and method of fishing for the specific animal for which you are fishing and always have the stranding number for your state on hand in case you hook a turtle. This will make it less likely for you to hook a sea turtle, and if you do, you will be prepared with the right number to call.
September 22nd, 2021: Gravel did really well overnight and since we did not need to do any surgery or aggressive treatments to remove the hook, we were able to offer them one whole lake smelt cut into pieces today. Though they did not eat anything, they did defecate a bit. Gravel had some minor metabolic acidosis on their bloodwork and was in slightly poor body condition, so they will probably be in rehab for a few months before they are ready to go back out into the wild.