FREEDOM!!

They baby turtles were released last week and I can only hope I taught them enough to survive in the wild.  When we are out in the big pool, I would chase them around so they would get used to diving when in danger.  I also taught them how to jump off a stick into the water if they were out sunning when danger approached and I tried to introduce them to as many different foods as possible.  They were still very small, but it was time for them to go.  Lord knows Mama is gonna miss them something fierce!  They were just the most precious little things!  And I thank Dr. Norm for trusting me with them!

Now my excuses for the exceptionally bad – but well worth watching video.  I had to stand on a hill – my balance is awful and I kept sliding.  The wind was blowing – making it even harder to keep my balance and my ribs still hurt meaning I couldn’t hold the camera up the whole time.  The sun was blaring and anyone who has a video camera knows how difficult it is to see the screen in the bight sunlight.  A couple times, I didn’t even realize I was recording – was too busy trying to keep my footing, but I decided to leave those parts in.  The best (and worst) part comes about 4 minutes in.  I can only hope I taught them well and that they’ll be okay and grow into fine, young turtles!

ENJOY!

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Babies in the big pool!

The babies are growing!  As any good mom, I was worried they weren’t getting the right kinds of food.  I don’t want to make them pets, so I don’t want them relying on commercially prepared turtle food.  But I’m not prepared to release them yet either – I really want them to get just a tad bit bigger.  So the challenge; to find a food to feed them that they will find in the wild.

Earthworms was a suggestion. I stopped by one of the local bait shops and asked for some small earthworms.  I guess they only come in one size.  Large.  I told him they were for teeny, tiny baby turtles and asked if he had anything smaller.  He said not to worry, they would eat them.  He was wrong!  They made friends.  The worm lived in the water with them – swimming with them and winding around their little bodies like they were the best buddies in the world.  But sadly, worms can only live in the water about three days before they perish and other than a few nibbles off the poor little dead body, the turtles mostly mourned the loss.

So, now I’m really stuck.  The babies were over a week old and it was time for them to start eating and it needed to be something they would thrive on.  I  decided to take my husband’s suggestion and take them out to the pool.

On my front deck, I have one of those hard plastic kids’ pools.  It catches rain water and all the frogs, (I love frogs, too), make tadpoles in the pool.  Tadpoles equal more frogs.  If it rains too much and the pool gets too full, I’m out there scooping water out of it – sometimes in the pouring rain.  Tadpoles aren’t very smart and if the pool starts to overflow, instead of swimming to the middle of the pool, they fall over the edge and die on the deck.  So…I scoop, and if it gets too low, I refill.  

I love my tadpoles, so the idea of using them as fodder didn’t thrill me.  On the other hand, my babies needed to eat.  So, out to the big pool we went.  At first, they weren’t the least bit interested, but one by one, they discovered the tadpoles and before long, everybody was eating….and eating….and eating.  Turns out they LOVE tadpoles!  It’s a delicacy.

So, for the past couple of days, I’ve been taking the babies out to the pool 2-3 times a day.  I knew at the rate they were going, the tadpoles weren’t going to last!  I had to find something else to feed them, so off to the bait store again.

This time I asked for some tiny fish.  I swear, he rolled his eyes at me as he asked if these were for the turtles again!  And then he said in his very thick southern accent, “Y’all oughta just head on out ta Otta Lake and catch ya some minnas.”  And then he sold me a net!

Out to Otter Lake I go…with a bucket and my brand new net.  Now, either this guy really thought I was after bigger fish or he’s sitting in some bar tonight telling his buddies about the net he sold some crazy turtle lady!  The net has holes in it big enough for the tiny little minnows to slip through!  I’d catch a couple only to have them fall back into the water before I got them to the bucket.  A half an hour later, I have 9 minnows.  I have 5 baby turtles….that’s 1.8 fish per turtle….I figured that was enough!  I was done!

I get home, pour the fish into the pool, go in the house and bring out the babies and plop them in the pool…and nothing.  Not only do they totally ignore the fish and start to eat the tadpoles, but now the fish are eating the tadpoles, too!  Between the turtles and the fish, the taddies didn’t stand a chance!  I knew I had to get the fish out!

So…after another fun time scooping, the fish are back in the bucket.  I’ll try again tomorrow and if the turtles still aren’t interested, I’ll take the fish back out to the lake and let them go.  And try to come up with something else!  Babies gotta eat!

A couple pictures of them in the big pool!  And a comparison shot.  The night they hatched, I took a picture of one with a quarter.  Took another picture with the quarter tonight.  Yes….I’d say they’re growing!

~Birthday pic~

~~Tonight~

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And a short video clip.  I could sit and watch these babies swim all day – they are just the cutest little things, but I know you’ve got better things to do….so I tried to keep it short – it’s just about 2 minutes. 

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Wee, Tiny Ones!

My old, dear cat, Peaches, has been having problems again and had to go see his favorite Vet on Friday.  He’s doing much better, so when my phone rang and the caller ID told me it was Melody – Peaches’ favorite Vets’ wife – I figured she was calling to see how he was doing.  Yes….she did ask how he was, but then said, “Your vet wants to talk to you.”

Dr. Norm got on the phone and he said something that didn’t register.  It sounded like he said he had a turtle hatch in his hand!  The old brain didn’t really grasp that so I said….”What?”

And very excitedly, he said it again….he just had a turtle hatch in his hand!  Then I remembered!!  For a couple of months now, he’s had a box of turtle eggs sitting on his back porch.  We had just talked about them a week or so ago – he’s been telling me all along that I was going to get to be turtle-mom when they hatched.  I figured since they hadn’t hatched by now, they probably weren’t going to and hadn’t really thought about them again.  We went through the ordeal of hoping to hatch eggs last year only to be disappointed.  So, I didn’t hold much hope!

But here he was on the phone telling me the eggs were hatching and that he was on his way to my house so one could hatch in my hand, too!  What happened when he got here was just too cool for words!  Definitely right up near the top of the list of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

~This was the first one out – the one that hatched in Dr. Norm’s hand.~

~And then he handed it to me!  Such a precious, precious, TINY little life!~

~We put him in a box and was amazed by how active he was!  He was even climbing!  They are born ready to go!~

~And then he put the second egg in my hand!~

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~And then one in Melody’s hand. Is this not just about the most precious thing you’ve ever seen?~

~One more hatched in my hand – which I filmed.  And the last one, I left alone and let her hatch in the box.  She had a bit more trouble coming out than the others did!  At one point, she was completely turned around going into the egg instead of coming out!~

~But she finally got herself turned around and going in the right direction~

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~In the meantime, the other 4 that had hatched were all over the place!  Very, very active little guys!  So adorable!~

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~I think they look like grumpy little old men!~

~To give you a good idea of how small these guys are, here is one with a quarter!~

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~This has to be my favorite shot – 20 minutes old and already the King of the Hill!  ~

~ It is a huge honor to be able to care for them and I thank Dr. Norm for trusting me with these tiny little lifes.  I look forward to the day I can post pictures of the little guys (and girls) swimming away to freedom and leading the kind of life a turtle was meant to lead!

Video 1 – The first one to hatch in my hand.  (1 min 20 sec in length)

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Video 2 – #2 hatches in Melody’s hand.   I missed the end of it – but still worth watching!  (1 min 1 sec)

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Video 3 – The second one to hatch in my hand.  This is condensed down to 3 min and 49 seconds from the actual 34 miniutes it took for this guy to come out.  It’s a little long, but about half way through there is a very cool turtle yawn!  And at the end, you can almost here him saying….”Hello World!  I’m here!”

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Video 4 – This little one took forever!  I don’t think she wanted to come out at all.  At one point, she got herself completely turned around and headed back into the egg!  Her little tail was sticking out!  This one took about 45 minutes and I ended up missing the end.  I had to give a cat a pill and when I came back…TA-DA… (1 min 29 sec)

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Video 5 – This is just too cute!  What does a baby turtle do the first time it feels water???  (18 seconds)

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Video 6 – Help me!!!  (16 seconds)

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Video 7 – From One to Five!  (1 min 2 sec)

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For Dr. Norm’s side of the story, please visit his blog at:

http://shepherdspringanimalhospital.com/

 

 

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Surgery on a Sea Turtle

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I’m going to start this blog entry with some warnings.  First, it’s going to be sappy and emotional.  It’s about something that is dear to my heart and when something is dear to my heart, the sap runs out unfettered.  Second, it doesn’t have a happy ending.  It tried to have a happy ending.  There were a whole lot of people pulling for a happy ending.  But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, or how much you want something, it just isn’t meant to be.  And last, it is graphic.  And I mean that in the sense of visually graphic. 

This blog is about a sea turtle.  Someone on a boat saw her – she was unable to submerge and swimming in circles.  They realized she was in trouble, so they caught her and she eventually ended up at a place where she could get help.  She was taken to Jack Rudloe at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab.   Mr. Rudloe called Dr. Norm Griggs and asked him to come take a look at her.

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She was a big girl.  Jack estimated her to be around 6 years old.  And she was in serious trouble.

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Dr. Norm examined her.  She had a terribly prolapsed cloaca.  When I say terribly, I mean it.  It wasn’t slightly prolapsed or moderately prolapsed, it was terribly prolapsed.  (Just trying to prepare you for the pictures coming up a little later in the blog.)

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The cloaca is the canal at the hind end of the turtle that everything comes through; urine, feces and even eggs when she lays them.  Dr. Norm and Mr. Rudloe decided the best thing to do was to take her back to the clinic for some X-rays.  Something had to cause the prolapse and if they were going to save this turtle’s life, they needed to find out what.

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She was a very sick, very weak girl.  I have had a lot of expereince with pain in the last few years and I could see by the way she hung her head and the dullness in her eyes that she was in pain – and had been that way for a long while.  Constant and unrelenting pain can wear you down and even break you.  I felt this turtle was close to giving up, so at this point, I almost decided to go home rather than go with Dr. Norm back to the clinic.  I have little tolerance for pain these days and watching animals that are sick, injured or in pain is difficult – very difficult, but something compelled me to follow. 

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Once back at the clinic, she was weighed.  (38.8 pounds)

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And X-rayed. 

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The X-rays showed Dr. Norm enough to know that if he didn’t do something, the turtle was going to die.  She was weak and might not survive the stress of surgery, but without it, she had no chance.  With it, well, there was at least hope.  She was prepped for surgery.

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Dr. Norm’s wife, Melody is his surgical assistant and anesthesiologist.  Watching as the turtle was put under was fascinating.  Turtles can hold their breath an awfully long time! 

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But she finally went under.

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Dr. Norm examines the prolapsed cloaca.

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He would need to fix the cloaca, but he also needed to find out what caused it.  The only way to do that was to go in and check for a blockage in her intestines.  The black you see in the intestines in the picture below is compacted poo.  Lots and lots and lots of poo!  This poor girl had went many, many days, possibly even weeks without being able to ‘go.’ 

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It was packed in there so thick and solid.  And what part of her intestines that wasn’t filled with poo was filled with gas.  Lots and lots of gas.  So much gas that she was unable to submerge.  No one knows for sure how long she floated out there before someone finally found her!

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Dr. Norm made an incision and cleaned out as much of the poo as he could.  When he cut into the intestine and the gas was finally released, I expected to be chased from the room by a horrible smell.  I was surprised when it turned out to be quite mild.  No worse than maybe some fresh horse droppings. 

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After most of the poo was removed from the intestines, they were cleaned and the incision was stitched back together.

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Then the intestines were returned to where they belonged and the main incision was closed.

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She had lots of barnacles all over her and some of them got a good, close-up view of the surgery.

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Then it was time to address the cloaca.  There was no way she would ever be able to pass anything through that thing in the condition it was in, so Dr. Norm bascially had to make her a new one.  She went from looking like this:

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To this:

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Then she was brought out of anesthesia.  And it became a waiting game.

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This is the part that is hard.  She didn’t make it.  Do I regret my decision to go to the clinic instead of going home?  No, I don’t.  How I prayed for a different outcome and how my heart broke at her passing, but being able to be so close to such a magnificent creature is an experience I will never forget.  To be able to place my hands on her back, to look her in the eye and try to convey to her that we were trying to help, and to hold her hand in mine…you know, the front flippers on a sea turtle are very much like a human hand.  Dr. Norm showed me the bones that make up the fingers, knuckles, and wrist.  Once I felt those, it became very much like holding someone’s hand.  It was nothing short of amazing.  She was nothing short of amazing. The sea is dimished without her.

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I am adding links to the video clips of the surgery below.  Condensing close to 3 hours down to 20 minutes was difficult, but I think I managed to capture the essence of the surgery. Unfortunately, it was so long, it had to be posted in three parts.   I urge you to allow yourself the time to view them all.  I think the least we can do for her is to view her final battle.  Also below is the last message I received from Dr. Norm about her.  I think it’s important to show that this man was, in every sense of the word, her champion.  He, and his wife Melody, did everything they possibly could for this amazing creature and they deeply felt her loss.  We can only wonder what would have happened if someone had found her sooner.

Please view the video here:

Part One:  ~~
Part Two  ~~
Part Three  ~~

Message from Dr. Norm:

Judy, I am truly touched by the caring and concern of these people and, of course, you.  I often feel a deep connection to some of my patients.   The wild ones touch me the most.  I am sorry to say that, this afternoon she found peace and crossed over the line.  I admire her incredible will to survive and I so wish I could have seen her sooner. After her death, I wanted to know the entire story that her body could tell me so Melody and I did a necropsy on her body.  Her energy reserves were completely gone, there was no fat anywhere in her body.  Her muscles were wasting because the protein in them was being used to keep her alive during her protracted illness. Her, once rock solid shell, was soft and pliable in places.  I am sure she has been fighting for months. Here is a breakdown, if you care to read it, of her illness.
 
At some point, probably over a month ago, she ingested something that she could not digest. Most likely it was a piece of trash as is so often the case with the marine turtles. She labored long and hard to pass the object after it passed through her intestinal track. It appears that she did pass it but due to the size and effort it took to expel it she prolapsed her rectal tissue in the process.  That was the mass that protruded from her anus when we first examined her.
 
Because she could no longer pass her stool through the constricted opening that the prolapse created, she began to get impacted with feces.  During the surgery we removed over 3 1/2 pounds of hard stool from her intestine.  We then resected and repaired her prolapse.  Her recovery from the anesthetic was very protracted even though she was only on inhalant anesthesia the whole time and kept very light.  Today she was so weak that she could barely raise her head. She had fought as long as anyone could ask her too. We took her to the clinic to tube feed her some baby food but she died on the way there.
 
I found that she also had what is called an intusseption higher in her intestines. That was probably caused by the intense straining to pass the feces that had accumulated in her.  The intusseption is difficult to describe but basically the intestine is pulled into itself like turning a sock inside out.  This blocked her bowel and caused the gas to accumulate that resulted in her being unable to dive and avoid capture. Sadly, it was too late to help her survive.
 
I did not see the intusseption during the surgery.  It was far into her shell and I did not suspect something else was wrong other than the complex mess we already had to deal with.  I sincerely don’t believe she would have survived me splitting her shell to get to the upper bowel to repair it but we will never know. 
 
Why don’t we take her back to the sea and send her home with some flowers and prayers? I think it would make me feel better.
Norm
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Sea Turtles in Jeopardy

Jan 20th Update:  The turtles are on their way back to the sea!  They were picked up yesterday and are being transported back to where they belong!

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When my friend called last night and asked if I wanted to go with her today to give some antibiotics to a sea turtle, of course, I jumped at the chance. Melody is married to a man (Norm) who has dedicated his life to helping animals – all animals. Not only is she the wife of a great veterinarian, she has also spent the last 28 years as his assistant, tech, righthand man. (Well, in this case, woman.) With Norm being out of town for a Vet Conference, it fell to Melody to go give the antibiotic injections.~

The turtle we went to see is not in very good condition.  He is weak from being in the cold water and has suffered frostbite on his face.  He is a young Green Sea Turtle.

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He was very weak and tried to struggle, but the struggle didn’t last too long. 

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He calmed down so he could be examined.  The frostbite is the white part going up over his nose and between his eyes. 

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Sea Turtles are like lizards and frogs – they tend to relax when turned upside down.

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You can get a pretty good idea how small this guy is as he is resting in Jack Rudloe’s hands.  Jack owns and runs the Gulf Speciman Marine Lab.

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The best place to give the injection is the soft tissue around the hind legs.

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In it goes!  OUCHIE!!!

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After he was released back into the water, he spent about 30 seconds flapping madly!  Jack says they do this as a defense.  It’s what they do when a shark comes up and grabs them from behind.  They splash like crazy, hoping the shark will let go.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!

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I don’t really know what I expected when I got to the Aquarium.  I knew the weather here in Florida had been unusually cold for the last couple weeks, but I didn’t know it had been so cold that the water temp of the Gulf dropped dramatically.  This caused major problems for the Sea Turtles.  They get stunned by the cold and can’t swim.  Many suffer frostbite.  I learned a massive effort to rescue some of the distressed turtles happened last week.  Over 1600 turtles were rescued!

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No one facility could handle all of the turtles, so they were divided and sent to facilities all over the state.  The Gulf Speciman Lab near me took in 60 of the beasties.

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To say I was stunned to see so many Sea Turtles in one place is putting it mildly.  There were several different tanks set up for them.

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Most are Green Sea Turtles, but there were two of the Atlantic Ridley’s.  All are endangered, but the Ridley’s even more so.

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The one pointing down is one of the Ridley’s.

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Many of the turtles had barnacles growing on them – some even had snails attached to them.  If you look very closely over this guy’s left paw, you can see one of them.

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The turtles are just here until the Gulf warms back up.  Most had been stunned from the cold and unable to swim.  A few suffered mild frostbite.  They had been watching this one particular turtle for several days and decided since Melody was there with antibiotics to go ahead and check him out.

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He was netted and grabbed.

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After examining him, they decided to go ahead and isolate him and give him some antibiotics.

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As we took the turtle back inside to an isolation tank, I passed a tank with this guy clinging on the side.  I, being the ‘touchy-feeling’ kinda person that I am, put my hand up on the side of the tank.

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He must have thought I had food because he spread to see to who was there!  What a pretty boy! 

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Once the 2nd turtle was inside, he was examined more closely.  Again, the white above and over his eyes is the tissue damaged from the frostbite.  Although this one may look worst than the first guy, he is not near as weak and they are hopeful about him!

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Just like the first turtle, this guy was flipped over onto his back!

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Injection was given in the same spot – the soft tissue around the back leg.

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This guy was EXCEPTIONALLY relaxed!

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We checked the first turtle and he wasn’t doing so well.  Melody and I are both worried about him.

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Everytime Melody put her hand in the water, this silly fish swam up and tried to bite her!  He actually connected once!  What a bad boy!!

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Also there recovering is a critically endangered Hawksbills Turtle.  As you can see, he is missing a front flapper.  Probably the result of a meeting with a shark!

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He is very young, but is healing nicely and seems to be adjusting to swimming minus-one.  The hopes are that one day soon, he will go free!

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Many, many turtles were rescued, but Jack has fears about the ones left out there.  They may have survived the cold spell, but if they suffered frostbite, we could see more weak and sick turtles in need over the coming weeks.

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In the meantime, there is this one little guy I know who could really, really use some prayers and warm, healing thoughts!

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The rest of the beasties should be released back out into their home in the next week or so.  The cold spell seems to be over and the temps are moving up.  Jack also said a nice warm front has come up from further down in the Gulf and that will help to warm things back up.  I’ll keep ya posted!!

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