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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 142:189-196 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03542

Gas embolism and massive blunt force trauma to sea turtles entrained in hopper dredges in North and South Carolina, USA

Craig A. Harms1,*, Shane M. Boylan2, Brian A. Stacy3, Jean F. Beasley4, Daniel García-Párraga5, Matthew H. Godfrey1,6,7

1North Carolina State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences, and Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
2South Carolina Aquarium, 100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, USA
3National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, University of Florida (duty station), Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
4Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Surf City, North Carolina 28445, USA
5Fundación Oceanogràfic, Veterinary Services & Research Department, 46013 Valencia, Spain
6North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
7Duke Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Decompression sickness (DCS) has been described mainly in loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta bycaught in trawls and gillnets. Here we present cases of gas emboli (GE) in 8 green turtles Chelonia mydas and 2 Kemp’s ridleys Lepidochelys kempii entrained in hopper dredges that were working at 8.8-15.2 m depths during shipping channel maintenance or beach renourishment activities. Turtle weights ranged from 2.2 to 6.7 kg. All were found alive with blunt force injuries from passage through the dredge and were taken to rehabilitation facilities. Four green turtles died or were euthanized within 24 h. Six turtles survived. Radiographic or ultrasonographic evidence of GE was detected in 4 turtles, including 3 mortalities. Computed tomography (CT) revealed perirenal and cervical GE in 4 turtles, including 1 mortality. No GE were detected in 2 of the survivors. Upon necropsy, GE were found in mesenteric vessels, the right atrium, and kidneys. Histopathology confirmed that tissues were in a good state of preservation without evidence of bacterial overgrowth or putrefactive gas formation. Death likely resulted primarily from massive tissue trauma from the dredge, but moderate GE could have led to DCS and complicated recovery. The surviving turtles weighed less than those that did not survive. Besides hypothesized stress/exercise-induced circulatory changes of blood through the lungs and pressure reduction of forced surfacing from depth, drastic pressure change within the dredge pipes before and after the pump could contribute to GE. Hopper dredge entrainment is an additional cause of GE and potential DCS in sea turtles.


KEY WORDS: Gas embolism · Hopper dredge · Decompression sickness · Blunt force trauma · Sea turtle · Chelonia mydas · Lepidochelys kempii


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Cite this article as: Harms CA, Boylan SM, Stacy BA, Beasley JF, García-Párraga D, Godfrey MH (2020) Gas embolism and massive blunt force trauma to sea turtles entrained in hopper dredges in North and South Carolina, USA. Dis Aquat Org 142:189-196. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03542

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