Triage for sea turtles at the Roanoke Island Animal Clinic
By SUNDAE HORN
Roanoke Island Animal Clinic in Manteo seems like any other veterinary
practice with its waiting room full of dogs on leashes and cats in
crates, its shelves of flea treatments and heartworm pills for sale,
and the sounds of yips and meows coming from the examining rooms.
Usually, the dog kennels have dogs in them.
Except when they have turtles in them.
When 19 cold-stunned sea turtles were rescued recently on Ocracoke,
they were loaded into trucks and taken to the emergency room at Roanoke
Island Animal Clinic to see Drs. Mary Burkart and Mark Grossman.
“We do triage for the turtles,” said Grossman. “We
check to see if they have pneumonia, if they’re hypoglycemic,
take x-rays if they appear to be injured. We can give them antibiotics
for infection, or sugar if they need it. But mostly we just warm them
trick is to slowly raise the turtle’s body temperature by warming
the water it’s in. First cool water, then tepid, then lukewarm.
The vets keep the turtles stable until the North Carolina Aquarium
staff can come pick them up for long-term rehab. The turtles are then
released back into the Gulf Stream.
Saturday, Feb. 6, Burkart and Grossman treated the 19 turtles from
Ocracoke, plus nine more. They saw loggerheads, Kemp’s ridleys,
and green sea turtles.
“We’d never had that many big sea turtles at once,”
Grossman said. “We had them in tubs on the floor, and we kept
some of the big 150-pound turtles in dog runs, with soaked towels over
them. We did the best we could that night, and it was cool because a
lot of people really came together to help. Volunteers from NEST
[Network for Endangered Sea Turtles], and the Marine Mammal Strandings
volunteers helped move turtles for three or four hours.”
After their stay in the ER at the clinic, the turtles were transported
to aquariums where they will fully recover from their trauma. The
aquarium on Roanoke Island couldn’t take all 28 of the turtles,
so some went to other North Carolina aquariums and some to
facilities in Georgia and South Carolina.
ones nearby will continue to be treated by Burkart – she’s
the staff veterinarian for the aquarium. Grossman is the official vet
for the state’s “Return to The Wild” Red Wolf
The husband-and-wife team developed an interest in local wildlife soon
after they opened their Roanoke Island practice in 1992. During their
first Thanksgiving dinner on the island, they got a page about a big
loggerhead turtle in Kitty Hawk. Another Outer Banks vet had just
refused to treat the animal, saying it was illegal to treat an
Dr. Grossman did not agree.
“I said to Mary, ‘That can’t be right. We’re
licensed vets. We can treat any animal.’ So I told them
‘Bring it on down to the clinic!’” said Grossman.
He admits that he wasn’t too sure about the loggerhead.
“I had no idea what to do,” he said. “I’d treated box turtles before,
On a wall at the clinic hangs a picture of Grossman and Burkart’s
young son standing next to that first sea turtle in the bathtub. The
caption reads: “C’mon, Dad, let’s take him home. Mom
It was on that night that the doctors began learning about the
condition called “cold-stunning” that affects sea turtles
when the water temperatures drop suddenly. And it was also when they
made a life-changing decision about their clinic.
“Mary and I decided that day that we would open our doors to
wildlife, and we’d treat any animal that came in, free of charge.
Since then we’ve treated bald eagles, owls, otters, deer,
dolphins, the list goes on and on,” he said.
Burkart and Grossman treat wildlife for free. In the case of the sea
turtles, their time and clinic space is donated. If the turtles need
blood work, the non-profit NEST picks up that tab. Because of the
vets’ dedication to wildlife, all live, stranded, cold-stunned
turtles on the Outer Banks end up at Roanoke Island Animal Clinic for a
splash in the toddler pools.
accepts donations to help off-set the costs of providing wildlife care.
To see other wild creatures they’ve treated, please visit the
“wildlife” page at www.roanokeislandanimalclinic.com.)