Chronic debilitation in stranded loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the southeastern United States: Morphometrics and clinicopathological findings

Nicole I. Stacy, Jennifer M. Lynch, Michael D. Arendt, Larisa Avens, Joanne Braun McNeill, Carolyn Cray, Rusty D. Day, Craig A. Harms, A. Michelle Lee, Margie M. Peden-Adams, Kelly Thorvalson, Al L. Segars, Terry M. Norton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Chronically debilitated loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) (DT) are characterized by emaciation, lethargy, and heavy barnacle coverage. Although histopathological findings associated with this condition have been reported, only limited data is available on health variables with clinical application. The objectives of this study were to 1) to compare morphometrics, clinicopathological variables, and immune functions of DTs to a group of apparently healthy loggerhead turtles to better understand the pathophysiology of the condition and 2) to assess health parameters in live debilitated turtles as they recovered during rehabilitation in order to identify potential prognostic indicators. We examined and sampled 43 DTs stranded from North Carolina to Florida for 47 health variables using standardized protocols to further characterize the condition. DTs were grouped into categories of severity of the condition, and those that survived were sampled at four time points through rehabilitation. All groups and time points were compared among DTs and to clinically healthy loggerhead turtles. Compared to healthy turtles, DTs had significantly lower body condition index, packed cell volume (PCV), total white blood cell (WBC) count, lymphocytes, glucose (Glc), total protein, all protein fractions as determined by electrophoresis, calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), Ca:P ratio, potassium (K), lymphocyte proliferation, and greater heterophil toxicity and left-shifting, uric acid (UA), aspartate aminotransferase, creatine kinase, lysozyme, and respiratory burst. From admission to recovery, hematology and plasma chemistry data improved as expected. The most informative prognostic indicators, as determined by correlations with a novel severity indicator (based on survival times), were plastron concavity, P, albumin, total solids, UA, lymphocyte proliferation, WBC, K, Glc, Ca:P, and PCV. The results of this study document the wide range and extent of morphometric and metabolic derangements in chronically debilitated turtles. Monitoring morphometrics and clinicopathological variables of these animals is essential for diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis during rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0200355
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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