The Loggerhead turtle, North, which was rescued along the Durban beachfront on Tuesday morning had its front left flipper amputated on Thursday morning.
North’s left front flipper had become gangrene after it was entangled in a fishing line which had cut off her blood supply.
She was rescued by Durban Search and Rescue, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, KZN Marine Stranding Network and eThekwini Municipality lifeguards from the breakwaters off North Beach as she surfaced to take a breath.
UShaka Sea World staff are now waiting for North to wake up from her surgery so they can manage her pain and take it from there.
Senior Aquarist, Malini Pather said the surgery went very well even though they were nervous because they had not amputated a turtle’s flipper before at uShaka Sea World even though it had been done elsewhere before.
“We put the animal under anesthesia this morning and we removed the flipper. It went really well. She’s still in recovery, so she hasn’t woken up yet, but her heart rate and breathing are all good, so we’re very comfortable. We’re just waiting for her to just wake up,” Pather said.
She also said North was on pain medication and antibiotics and all sorts of things to help manage discomfort.
Her forearm bone was removed and the blood vessels were sutured. Thereafter, her muscle bellies were stitched over her shoulder socket and the skin stitched closed.
She said the flipper was removed and the vet stitched North up. The wound would have to seal and they would have to make sure there was no secondary infection from the injury.
“I am confident (she will be able to survive in the wild), it’s the front flipper and not two. There are many turtles in the wild that are able to manage with just one front flipper. There will be the odd occasion where an animal somehow doesn’t take with those disabilities but we’ll just have to wait and see,” Pather said.
She said it was difficult to tell how long North’s recovery time would take because she was a turtle, which is a reptile and reptiles have a slow metabolism, which meant everything happened slowly. This included recovery and general rehabilitation. It even takes drugs a really long time to move through the system, meaning it would also take time for North to wake up.
Pather said North seemed like a fighter and she thinks she’s going to be fine.
“I’m very very hopeful. It (flipper) was rotting, which also would have impacted her health. She hasn’t been eating, she’s emaciated, so she’s severely underweight and we will have to get her weight up and all of those things take time,” Pather said.
She said they had done a lot of turtle rehabilitation over the last 15 or so years and each case was different. Some animals would take a few weeks, some months and others stayed years.
Their policy is to release animals that are healthy enough.