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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 53:533-545 (2024)  -  DOI:

Endocrine data provide further evidence of physiologic derangement in sea turtles affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Charles J. Innis1,*, Katherine M. Graham1, Nicole I. Stacy2, Brian A. Stacy3, Elizabeth A. Burgess1

1Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
2Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA
3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, University of Florida (duty station), Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: This study was conducted to characterize the adrenocortical and thyroid status of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles Lepidochelys kempii that were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A plasma aldosterone assay was validated for L. kempii, and it was used along with previously validated assays for corticosterone and free thyroxine to assess hormone concentrations of 30 L. kempii that were hospitalized due to oil exposure, representing 2 severities of oiling (lightly or heavily oiled). Hormone concentrations were also assessed in relation to 8 clinical biochemical analytes. Analysis of paired samples indicated that oiled turtles had significantly higher initial aldosterone and corticosterone concentrations, which declined during convalescence (average 96 and 90% decrease, respectively). Thyroxine concentrations significantly increased between admission and convalescence (average 65% increase). Initial biochemical data indicated significantly higher plasma potassium, ionized magnesium, and lactate concentrations compared to convalescent values. Aldosterone concentrations were positively correlated with corticosterone, negatively correlated with free thyroxine, and variably correlated with several clinical biochemical analytes. Results of this study indicate that L. kempii had robust adrenocortical activity after oiling, capture, and transport to the hospital, regardless of the degree of oiling, resulting in very high plasma concentrations of aldosterone and corticosterone. This study also confirms that aldosterone can be reliably measured in sea turtle plasma samples, providing another diagnostic tool for the physiologic assessment of this Critically Endangered species.

KEY WORDS: Oil spill · Sea turtle · Adrenal · Aldosterone · Corticosterone · Thyroid

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Cite this article as: Innis CJ, Graham KM, Stacy NI, Stacy BA, Burgess EA (2024) Endocrine data provide further evidence of physiologic derangement in sea turtles affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Endang Species Res 53:533-545.

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