We wished Sea Turtle Healing Center patient Hiccup well on March 29 as we sent them back to the water following a five-month stay with us.
Hiccup arrived at the Healing Center in October 2021 after being found struggling at the surface of the water in Jetty Park.
Hiccup’s unusual “twitch” earned them their name. When they first arrived, Hiccup would flick their head in a way that looked like they had hiccups. However, reptiles don’t have diaphragms, so it wasn’t a true hiccup. This twitch made it impossible for Hiccup to get their head up and take a breath while swimming.
Initially, we believed Hiccup had some sort of neurological distress, so our animal care team took Hiccup for a CT scan at the Rockledge Regional Medical Center and tested Hiccup for toxins. While we never learned exactly what was causing this twitch, it eventually went away.
We found that Hiccup had fractures to their plastron, or the flat part of their shell, and a break to their hyoid bone (which is in the neck). It’s possible that Hiccup’s twitch was related to the pain associated with these injuries. Hiccup was also treated for caryospora (a parasitic protozoan).
Our team worked with Hiccup to slowly reacclimate them to swimming, graduating Hiccup from a kiddie pool to a regular tank after about two months with us.
“They took a lot of time to adjust to swimming again and seemed to have a hard time controlling their buoyancy, as they would sink to the bottom like a rock,” said Healing Center coordinator Jess Patterson. “They would then have a hard time swimming to the surface, spooking any time they touched the side of the pool. Eventually, they calmed down and were able to navigate their pool better.”
Hiccup was unable to eat on their own, so they used a feeding tube for about four months. Our care team remembered how much Hiccup ate once they finally started eating: full leaves of lettuce and a full dish of fish, shrimp and clams.
“During the first few days of eating, Hiccup’s behaviors also changed,” Patterson said. “They went from being very shy and quiet to using their enrichments and actively swimming!”
With this new lease on life, Hiccup acted like a brand-new turtle: active and curious. They were taken off their medications and their voracious appetite was satiated.
Hiccup was released near where they were initially found in Cape Canaveral. After being placed in the water, Hiccup spent a few minutes “surfing” on the waves near the shoreline before swimming out of sight.
Have you found a sea turtle that needs help? Visit this page or call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.