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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  DOI:

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

    Craig A. Harms*, Shane M. Boylan, Brian A. Stacy, Jean F. Beasley, Daniel García-Párraga, Matthew H. Godfrey

    *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 eight green turtles Chelonia mydas and two Kemp’s ridleys Lepidochelys mydas 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 four turtles, including three mortalities. Computed tomography (CT) revealed perirenal and cervical GE in four turtles, including one mortality. No GE were detected in two of the survivors. Upon necropsy, GE were 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.