This little turtle, thought to be approximately one year old, was found stranded on a beach near Albany. Toni should have been enjoying life in the oceans, swimming, feeding and diving, so to see him beached raised immediate concerns.
Toni was brought to our wildlife hospital, where he was given a through veterinary check, including having blood tests and x-rays taken. Apart from being lethargic, it looks like Toni’s first year of life had been a challenging one, as he was also missing his back right flipper – this isn’t unusual. It could have been munched by a larger marine animal, or come into contact with a boat or fishing nets. Sea turtles can survive in the wild with only three flippers – they learn to adapt to a missing limb just like humans – so it certainly wasn’t the reason why Toni was so poorly.
The youngster was set up in a special ICU turtle room, slowly warmed up and reintroduced to water and food. After a few days in our care he pooped out a piece of balloon! Now we knew why poor Toni was so unwell.
Sadly this is a very common scenario for marine turtles. Loggerheads often mistake balloons and plastic bags for jellyfish, ingesting them before becoming very ill. The outlook for turtles that eat plastic is often bleak. For many it means death. Sharp plastics can rupture internal organs and balloons and plastic bags can cause intestinal blockages leaving turtles unable to feed, resulting in starvation. Even if they survive, consuming plastic can make turtles unnaturally buoyant, which can stunt their growth and lead to slow reproduction rates.
Toni was one of the lucky ones. He’s now left our hospital and will be at a turtle rehabilitation facility for some months, gaining strength and being monitored carefully, he could still poop out more plastics. All being well, Toni will return to the wild next Summer and hopefully go onto lead a happy and fulfilling life. But his story is a cautionary one. We love balloons, but when they’re used outdoors they can escape into the environment and end up in oceans or waterways, harming and even killing precious wildlife. Please, think twice before using them outdoors, because your celebration may inadvertently become a death sentence for marine life.
** Male and female sea turtles do not differ externally until they approach maturity, therefore it is unknown what sex Toni is, despite this blog referring to ‘him’.