ESR 29:13-21 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00696

Sea turtle rehabilitation success increases with body size and differs among species

Linda Baker1,2, Will Edwards1,2, David A. Pike2,3,*

1College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4878, Australia
2Centre for Tropical Environmental & Sustainability Science, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 4870, Australia
3College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Wildlife rehabilitation can contribute to species conservation by releasing healthy individuals back into the wild and educating the public about threatening processes. Rehabilitation has substantial financial costs, however, and thus it is important to understand the success rates of these potential conservation management actions. We quantified the success rates for 1700 sea turtles admitted to rehabilitation facilities in Florida (USA) between 1986 and 2004. Rehabilitation success was low: 61.5% of turtles died in rehabilitation and only 36.8% were released back into the wild. A further 1.6% of turtles were maintained in captivity permanently due to the severe nature of their injuries. Most mortality occurred early during the rehabilitation process (within a few weeks), and successful rehabilitation often took several months to more than 3 yr. Loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta were most likely to survive rehabilitation, followed by Kemp’s ridleys Lepidochelys kempii and green turtles Chelonia mydas; for all 3 species, larger individuals had an increased chance of successful rehabilitation. At face value, the low rates of rehabilitated turtles successfully released back into the wild may contribute only modestly to conservation in terms of contributing to population viability. However, many rehabilitation facilities provide important educational experiences that increase public awareness of the threats facing animals and highlight potential conservation solutions. Media coverage highlighting the release of rehabilitated animals further extends the conservation value of these efforts. Wildlife rehabilitation provides important direct benefits that, combined with social benefits, together may justify the expense and difficulty of rehabilitating individual animals.


KEY WORDS: Animal hospital · Endangered species · Human intervention · Injury · Marine turtle · Public engagement · Sea turtle stranding · Survival · Veterinary care · Wildlife rehabilitation


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Cite this article as: Baker L, Edwards W, Pike DA (2015) Sea turtle rehabilitation success increases with body size and differs among species. Endang Species Res 29:13-21. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00696

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