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The scientific work of ARCHELON

The scientific work of ARCHELON On the 6th October ARCHELON Zakynthos recovered a recently deceased loggerhead turtle from the sea in Zakynthos Town. As this turtle had recently died, there was a unique opportunity to learn more about the cause of death through an autopsy. Many turtles recovered are in a state of decay making cause of death difficult to determine. While it is always regrettable to lose individual sea turtles, obtaining an individual in this condition offers opportunities to further understand various threats to their survival.

State Veterinarian Marion Oppel performed the autopsy on the 7th of October, with members of the ARCHELON Zakynthos team assisting and an NMPZ representative present. The autopsy indicated that the cause of death was gut impaction due to shell ingestion. Loggerheads are well known to feed on crabs, crustaceans, molluscs and jellyfish. Ingestion of synthetic materials, such as plastic bags, or indigestible natural materials can result in cases of intestinal blockages, referred to as gut impactions. This condition can cause difficulties with buoyancy, adversely affecting a sea turtle’s diving ability. Haemorrhaging in the stomach lining and intestinal wall and inflammation of the intestines was observed in this individual. Further examination of the stomach and intestines revealed that both were empty, until a lower section of the intestines revealed a large blockage of shell fragments. It is unlikely that a turtle would be capable of overcoming a gut impaction without treatment in the wild. This condition can often lead to death, as a result of starvation. It was concluded that the cause of death of this individual, was likely due to this intestinal blockage.

It is interesting to note that two live injured turtles rescued by the ARCHELON Zakynthos team during the 2015 season, Marina and Jo, were also suffering from gut impaction due to shell ingestion. Both turtles were transported to our Rescue Centre in Glyfada, Athens, and were successfully rehabilitated and released.

We would like to thank Marion Oppel for conducting this autopsy and for allowing members of our team to participate. It was an incredible learning opportunity and greater understanding of the threats facing sea turtles is vital for their long term survival.

Kim Townsend Smyth

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