Daytime TV Has Nothing On These Girls

Hemingway, whose appetite has earned her a reputation, swallowed this bolt.
Contributed photos - A worker at Radiology Associates' Southside Imaging Center scans Hemingway after she swallowed a bolt at the Texas State Aquarium in April. The hawksbill turtle has since recovered.

Itsy got pneumonia. Bitsy had a deviated lung. Daisy refused to eat. Hemingway ate anything.

Such has been the drama at the Texas State Aquarium's Tortuga Cay sea turtle exhibit. The sea turtle sanctuary opened in March as part of a $3 million, three-year expansion of Conservation Cove, an outdoor exhibit plaza for seldom-seen species, including Kemp's Ridley, hawksbill and green sea turtles in a natural lagoon habitat.

The seven female sea turtles in Tortuga Cay met with drama long before the aquarium -- all are there because of injuries or health problems.

They continued the drama just weeks after the exhibit opened.

Turtle caregiver Deanna Gallier found the aluminum steps into the exhibit floating in the water one mid-April morning.

"Hemingway eats anything, and she worked and worked until she bent the bolt and it snapped," Gallier said.

Hemingway's behavior changed suddenly, and preliminary tests showed a high white blood cell count in the hawksbill turtle. So, Gallier asked radiologist Dr. Karl Fan for help.

Radiology Associates' Southside Imaging Center used professional imaging equipment to take a look inside.

"We actually saw bolts inside her," Gallier said. "She took a big bite out of the exhibit."

Since then, the steps have been removed. And Hemingway passed the bolt. The radiology center has come to the rescue in other instances.

Even though the radiology group doesn't typically tend to animals, it has helped with a dolphin and a Texas Indigo snake in addition to other turtles.

"We really appreciate the professional examinations and careful handling of our animals," Gallier said. "These folks are really helping us see things we'd never know about."

Itsy and Bitsy, both about 3-year-old Kemp's ridleys who were stranded after losing flippers, were having breathing problems.

Scans showed Itsy had pneumonia and Bitsy had a deviated lung. Both have been treated and are back in the exhibit.

Daisy, who is about 20 and a Kemp's ridley, was scanned because she stopped eating. Several hundred eggs were seen packed inside her.

"The egg load makes them lethargic, and they won't eat," Gallier said. But Mother Nature would take care of that problem herself.

"They aren't fertilized, so they are reabsorbed into her body. Mother Nature's pretty smart," she said.

What's next for the ladies of Tortuga Cay?

A male turtle is being rehabilitated and when he is healthy enough, he'll move in.

Caller Times
by Mike Baird
August 1, 2008