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Fishhook Removal from an Apalone spinifera - Chris Tabaka DVM
Related web articles:
The Soft-shelled Turtles - Darrell Senneke
Copyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved
THE STORY OF THE "45 POUND ENDANGERED TURTLE"
Late in the day a radio call went out that there was a woman with "a 45 pound endangered turtle" in the zoo's parking lot. Barring a misplaced sulcata wandering around the countryside, I figured she might have an alligator snapping turtle which would indeed fit the bill. I radioed that I would be up in a few minutes to check out the situation.
Upon getting to the front gate of the zoo, I was greeted by the following: one large red truck, one concerned fisherwoman citizen, and one 6.2 pound, 13 inch Apalone spinifer (softshell turtle) complete with fishing line coming out of it's mouth leading to a lead sinker leading to an eyehook in the corner of the truck where it was tied off (lest it try jumping 3 feet in the air to escape?). After quickly disassembling the setup, I took the animal back to the hospital to work on it.
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After calling in some help/humor in aquarist Steve Bogardy (as well as veterinary technician Jennifer Marshall), we took a radiograph to determine where the hook was in the animal in order to determine if we could extract it without my having to do surgery.
As the radiograph shows, the hook is somewhere in the neck. Unfortunately it does not show how far down the hook may be (this species has an incredibly long neck) and the only way to determine this is to pull the head out. Therefore, at this point, we attempted to get the animal's head out while maintaining some semblance of our current 5 digits on each hand. This proved to be impossible even with the tempting earthworm dance. Therefore, on to plan B- anesthetize the turtle.
There are two basic ways to anesthetize an animal such as this- injectable anesthetics and gas anesthetics. At that time (1998 or so), I chose gas as the most applicable anesthetic for the situation. The turtle was not particularly impressed by this decision.
After the animal was sedated, we extracted the animal's head and took another radiograph in order to determine how far down the throat the hook had gone. As the radiograph shows, the hook was located in the neck which is far easier to access than if it had completely swallowed it.
After several unsuccessful attempts to remove the hook via the mouth, I decided to proceed surgically. I was able to feel it on the left side of the throat but was unable to get a good grip on on it in order to push it through the skin in order to cut the barb and extract the remaining piece.
I made a small incision, found the barb of the hook, made a small hole in the esophagus (less than a quarter inch), pushed the barb through the hole, cut the barb off, and then removed what was left of the hook and the fishing line via the mouth.
I placed a suture in the esophagus to seal up the small hole there then closed the skin incision.
The animal was monitored for 24 hoursduring recovery (it appeared to be doing quite well judging by it's inability to differentiate my fingers from fresh earthworms) with plans on releasing it back into it's native habitat if it's condition warranted it.
A few weeks later, the animal was released into a large pond/small lake with plenty of toad and bullfrog larvae as well as several species of fish.
Judging by it's Olympic record swimming speed a quarter of a second after it hit the water, the animal was more than happy to return to it's natural environs..
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