You may have already seen this on social media – perhaps the most painful 8 minutes I’ve seen in a long time. It reminds me of the rough-toothed dolphin stranding in 2005, where I witnessed a dedicated veterinarian remove an old aluminium can from the stomach of a dolphin. And I do mean “old” – it was the pull-tab kind of can that fell out of use in the 1980’s. The EPA estimates that more than 1 million marine animals and seabirds are killed by marine litter every year.
Our research team in collaboration with Christine Figgener and Dr. Nathan J. Robinson found a male Olive Ridley sea turtle during our in-water research trip in Costa Rica. He had a 10-12 cm PLASTIC STRAW lodged in his nostril.
After initially thinking that we are looking at a parasitic worm, and trying to remove it to identify it, we cut a small piece of to investigate further and finally identified what we were REALLY looking at. After a short debate about what we should do we removed it with the plier of a swiss army knive which was the only tool available on our small boat (not intended for overnight stays), since we were on the ocean, in a developing country, a few hours away from the coast and several hours away from any vet (probably days from any vet specialised in reptiles, not to mention sea turtles) and x-ray machines. Plus, we would have incured a penalty (up to time in jail) on ourselves by removing the turtle since that is beyond our research permits. He did very obviously not enjoy the procedure very much, but we hope that he is now able to breath more freely.
The blood from the shoulder is from a 6mm skin biopsy we took previously to this event for a genetic study (part of our permitted research), which usually doesn’t bleed much, but which started bleeding while restraining the turtle. We disinfected the air passageway with iodine and kept the turtle for observation before releasing him back into the wild. The bleeding stopped pretty much immediately after the removal of the straw.
The turtle very likely ate the straw and regurgitated the straw where it ended up in the wrong passageway. The nasal cavity of sea turtles is connected directly to the palate (roof of the mouth) by a long nasopharyngeal duct.
For more information about this topic, I highly recommend the Ocean Conservancy organization and the EPA reort Marine Litter – Trash That Kills (pdf).