New turtle tech in use at Gulfarium Care Center

Northwest Florida

OKALOOSA ISLAND, Fla. (WKRG) — Gulf Coast sea turtle Mr. Right hatched into this world missing his left flippers in the summer of 2020.

“You can see that his little flipper is malformed and this one really didn’t have any front flipper bone at all except one little toenail thingy there,” said Dr. Rebecca Wells, Gulfarium Care Center veterinarian.

Wells brought in Mr. Right for his first annual check-up Tuesday using an updated digital x-ray machine funded by a state grant.

“The one we had was 11 years old and was about to fail, but it was called a computed radiography system. That one worked on casetts that you had to put under the animal, take out, put into a separate machine, wait for it to develop, and then spit out an image,” Wells said.

The new digital radiography technology is similar to those at a dentist’s office — a simple image over the turtle’s shell or fin and the full scan shows up in seconds for the doctor to review. Wells said the machine saves the lab team about five minutes for every picture taken.

“It is so much time — it is a lot less moving of the animal, so a lot less stress on the animal. We can also take this unit poolside or, if we really needed to, pier side.”

Mr. Right checked out fine for his big day in the lab, but other residents at the care center have a different story.

“The turtles that come to our particular care center in our geographic area (have) a lot of fishing entanglement or fishing hook ingestion,” Wells said.

Another patient named Orion is recovering from surgery after x-rays revealed a hook inside of his body earlier this year. Care center staff says he should be released in the coming weeks.

The Gulfarium applies for Sea Turtle Conservancy grants every year to improve the facility. The money for the grants is funded from the sale of Save the Sea Turtle license plates in Florida.

If you are interested in helping the Care Center, you can find ways to volunteer and more ways to contribute on their website. You can follow along with patients at the center and look for turtle releases on their social media pages.

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