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Rare leucistic loggerhead, one of two babies receiving care at CROW

By Staff | Aug 22, 2017

Two baby loggerhead sea turtles were recently admitted to CROW after being found in their nest unable to escape.

One was admitted Sunday, Aug. 21, and another, a leucistic loggerhead, arrived the following day, Monday, Aug. 21. The leucistic, white, loggerhead was rescued by Turtle Time on Fort Myers Beach.

Leucistic loggerhead sea turtles are rare, CROW Hospital Director Dr. Heather Barron said, adding that her guess would be less than 1 percent of the population.

“This one is leucistic because it has the dark eyes,” she said, compared to an albino, which typically has red eyes.

Barron said since the hatchlings did not make it out of the nest they were brought to CROW to receive a little boost. The hope is both loggerhead sea turtles would be releasable, but it’s up to the state of Florida to make the final decision.

“I have seen older, leucistic animals making it out into the wild,” she said. “If they are released they will have to be taken out to sargassum, which is just a line of floating water weed that is offshore. You usually have to go quite a ways out to find it and you don’t know until you hit it of how far out it is really.”

When baby sea turtles hatch that is where they go, to the sargassum, where they float on it and feed from that area until they get quite a bit bigger.

“Then they will come back in to local waters again, usually after two, or three years,” Barron said. “If these guys go out, we won’t be able to release them just off the beach like the way we would if they were born yesterday.”

The reason is because all baby reptiles, including baby sea turtles, hatch out of an egg. She said when they are born the yolk from the egg is just inside of their tummy and they gradually absorb it over the first three to five days of life.

“That’s what feeds them until they are able to get out to the sargassum and begin to feed on their own. That’s how they survive the trip. But if they have already had three, four, or five days in captivity, they have already absorbed that yolk, so they would not have the energy they would need to make it all the way out to where they would normally feed,” Barron said. “That is why it is important to take them out directly to the sargassum.”

As of Monday afternoon, the loggerheads had not absorbed their umbilicus leaving it raw and exposed. Barron said they will receive antibiotics to prevent infection from going up into the umbilicus.

“When sea turtles hatch they are way down underneath the sand. It takes them several days to actually crawl their way up. That heavy exercise actually helps them to absorb that yolk, so their is no umbilicus sticking out,” she said.

The leucistic loggerhead was given a little snack when it arrived at CROW Monday because it had been with Turtle Time for a few days before being admitted to CROW.

“We are trying to help it strengthen up a bit,” Barron said. “There’s usually a reason, right, that they didn’t make it out of the nest and to the water. The prognosis is always a little worrisome with these guys.”

She said during nesting season they always have at least one baby loggerhead at CROW receiving care.