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A veterinarian intern performs surgery on a green sea turtle

Veterinarian intern Kaitlyn sews up Nephron after removing fishing line from the green sea turtle.

Editor’s note: We sent Nephron home to the ocean on Aug. 18, 2022!

Fishing line seems like an unthreatening tool to humans, but this piece of fishing gear can be so harmful to marine life, especially turtles. One of our Sea Turtle Healing Center patients, Nephron, is recovering after major surgery to remove fishing line from their intestines.  

Please remember to pack your fishing gear before and after use, and place unwanted fishing line in the designated bins at waterfront parks. 

Nephron arrived at our Healing Center after being stranded in Port Canaveral on March 10, 2022 – World Kidney Day, which inspired their name. This juvenile green sea turtle had fishing line coming out of their mouth.  

Nephron has fibropapillomatosis (FP), a disease that causes tumors to grow inside and outside a sea turtle’s body. This made it crucial for our animal care staff to see if Nephron had internal tumors before putting them through surgery. A CT scan at Rockledge Regional Medical Center showed no tumors inside of Nephron.  

An endoscope was used to cut the fishing line coming out of Nephron’s mouth and esophagus, while a laxative was used to help Nephron pass any remaining line.  

While Nephron initially passed about 150 centimeters of fishing line, animal care staff saw that more fishing line remained in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract during Nephron’s daily ultrasounds. These ultrasounds allow our team to look for bunching of the GI tract, which is caused by the tract trying unsuccessfully to move the fishing line out. A week after the first part of the line was passed, bunching began.  

“We were hoping Nephron would have been able to pass the rest of the line, but once the bunching starts, surgery is needed,” said Jess Patterson, Sea Turtle Healing Center coordinator.  

Removing the fishing line is an intense surgery for a sea turtle. A cut is made in the inguinal, or groin area – one of the only places veterinarians can use to access a turtle’s body cavity. The intestines are gently pulled out, and the veterinarian begins to feel the intestines for the fishing line.  

Fishing line being measured

This is only part of the fishing line that was removed from green sea turtle Nephron’s intestines.

Once the line was found in Nephron, a small cut was made into their intestine and the fishing line was cut. Since the tension was cut, our veterinarians were able to remove part of the line running out of Nephron’s cloaca, the orifice that’s the endpoint of both the urinary and digestive tracts in a turtle. The remaining line was removed through another incision above the first one.  

Once the incisions were sewed closed, the intestines were then pushed back into Nephron’s body cavity and sewed closed. An additional 50 centimeters of fishing line was removed, bringing the total amount of fishing line Nephron ingested to about 200 centimeters.  

Since surgery, Nephron has been doing well – they even started eating the day after surgery! Nephron was on pain medications for a few days to help with recovery. Soon, Nephron will be back in surgery to remove their FP tumors, which should be a quick procedure since they don’t have many.  

If all continues to go well, we hope to release Nephron back to the water in the next few months.  

Have you found a sea turtle that needs help? Visit this page or call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.

Want to help the Sea Turtle Healing Center? Support our Zoo, or view our Healing Center’s wishlist.