Characterization of injuries and health of injured loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in coastal waters of the southeastern U.S.
Alderson, Jesse Elizabeth
Owens, David Wm.
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This study utilized a standardized characterization system to describe injuries observed on loggerhead sea turtles captured by the SCDNR in-water sea turtle study between 2000 and 2009. At least one injury was noted among 27.4% (n = 433 of 1,579) of collected loggerheads. Injury rates were higher in adults than in sub-adults and juveniles, but were comparable between males and females. Loggerheads collected from shipping channels had higher injury rates than those captured elsewhere from comparable distances from shore. Observed injuries were not evenly distributed on the body, with the carapace exhibiting the highest proportion of injury (40.4%). Types of injuries were not evenly distributed, with amputations comprising 50.9% of all injuries. Significantly more injuries were healed (87.2%) relative to other injury ages, and a significant proportion of injuries could not be attributed to any source (85.1%). These finding collectively suggest that sub-lethal injuries are common among free-swimming loggerheads, with the highest proportion of injuries affecting the posterior carapace; however, the predominantly healed state of injuries suggests low annual infliction rates and a high resiliency to injuries among loggerheads. Analysis of several blood parameters in injured and non-injured loggerheads suggested that injuries had no detectable long-term effect on health; however, corticosterone analyses suggested that the injury healing process may affect the physiological stress response. Concentrations of circulating corticosterone were significantly different between loggerheads with healing injuries and their controls. Additionally, initial corticosterone concentrations were significantly higher in loggerheads with partially healed relative to healed injures, and the corticosterone response to capture stress was suppressed in loggerheads with partially healed injuries relative to loggerheads with healed, fresh, and stingray injuries.