But then there’s CPR for trapped turtles if they’re found in time

(Nov. 29, 2019) What do you do when you find a lethargic terrapin on the verge of death? You give it CPR, of course. 

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Sandi Smith, marketing and development coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, helped save the life of two Terrapin turtles after watermen found the animals trapped in ghost crab pot cages last Tuesday, Nov. 19. 

Or at least, that was what Sandi Smith, marketing and development coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, was instructed to do last Tuesday. 

“The rehabber was walking me through the whole CPR thing and I was like, ‘Really? You can give a turtle CPR?” Smith said.  

On Tuesday, watermen doing abandoned crab pot cleanup in Manklin Creek in Ocean Pines found several turtles throughout the day, but many of them were dead — a typical occurrence, Smith said.  

“The bait that they use for crab pots is not only food for crabs, but it also attracts turtles,” Smith said. “If they [pots] don’t have bypass reduction devices on them, turtles go into the cages and are unable to get out.” 

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Sandi Smith, marketing and development coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, helped save the life of two Terrapin turtles after watermen found the animals trapped in ghost crab pot cages last Tuesday, Nov. 19. 

However, the watermen did find two living turtles, a large adult female around noon and a juvenile male later that afternoon, both exhibiting sluggish behavior. 

“We suspect they go into hibernation mode [to survive],” Smith said. 

Nonetheless, the female terrapin became more lively and the rehabber told Smith it should be okay to release the turtle back into the water. 

The juvenile, however, remained lethargic, most likely because it had water in its lungs, Smith said, and would not survive the cold water. 

The rehabber told Smith to give the turtle CPR, and then instructed her on how to take care of it until Smith was able to get it to a rehab facility over the weekend. 

“I’m a wildlife advocate,” she said. “I’m a first responder with the National Aquarium too, and typically it’s [saving animals] always very emotional for me, but you slip into a different mode — all you want to do is to make sure you do the right thing.”

Smith said despite people’s best intentions, they often do the wrong thing when attempting to save an animal. 

For example, she said people will give abandoned baby animals cow’s milk, which can be deadly. 

“Rehabbers always tell people ‘Don’t feed them, don’t try to do anything, get them to the rehabber,’ and, sadly, I’ve seen too many cases where people do the wrong thing,” Smith said. 

To help future terrapins stuck in ghost crab pots, Smith is devising an event that she calls the “Ghost Pot Rodeo.” 

Smith was inspired by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Ghost Trap Rodeo event, which runs like a fishing derby, but rather than being awarded for catching the biggest fish or the most fish, participants must collect the most abandoned crab pots and other marine debris. 

Smith has already written a grant proposal for the event and has sent it to Keep Maryland Beautiful, which funded the Protect our Sand & Seas source reduction campaign earlier this year.

Smith is hoping to host the event in September, when water traffic is less hectic and the weather will remain mild enough for participants to safely find the crab pots. 

If you find a sick or injured animal, call the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 1-877-463-6497. 

And about that CPR? According to reptile first aid websites, it involves pressing the legs in and out to help the terrapin expel water and then, it’s, well, mouth-to-beak.

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