An ethical debate- to euthanize or rehabilitate?
 
A story of Fegghy the sea turtle…

For many animals presented to wildlife carers, veterinarians or rehabilitation there is a difficult task of deciding whether the most humane course of action is euthanasia or rehabilitation. This is a delicate ethical question that can be very controversial. Euthanasia aims to relieve the suffering of the animal with the understanding that not every animal can be saved and there are never enough facilities or resources to save every animal. However, with only 1 in 1000 sea turtle hatchlings surviving to adulthood, every individual has potential to help sustain the population in some way.

There are some issues in all professions that come across some ethical concerns that must be confronted. This was the case with a loggerhead that was found in Italy with very severe head injuries from a boat propeller running over its head. What to do?

The following account follows a real online debate on C-Turtle list server between sea turtle specialists from around the world…

  © 2007 Archivio Fondazione Cetacea

The following discussion has been extracted from the CTURTLE listserv archive (http://www.lists.ufl.edu/archives/cturtle.html). CTURTLE is managed by the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.

Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation
CTURTLE Forum

Subject: Loggerhead without upper jaw
Dates: May 11 – May 20, 2007
_________________________________________________________________________

Dear colleagues,

Almost 18 months ago we found a loggerhead turtle with a terrible wound (maybe a propeller) on the head. The specimen had the upper jaw completely removed and it was unable to eat. Furthermore, several barnacles (in the Adriatic sea they appear to be very infestant) were grown also on the internal of the mouth. Two surgical operations were needed to rebuild tissues destroyed in the impact. Now the situation appears as you can see in the following picture:
http://www.seaturtle.org/cgi-bin/imagelib/index.pl?photo=3267

After a period when the turtle needed to be forced feeded it became then able to autonomously feed. We are thinking about its release at sea, but we have doubts. Since its lower jaw is open and not covered by the upper jaw we fear that barnacles can invade again its always-open mouth.
What should we do with this turtle?
We would like to have your opinion about its possible release.

Thank you for your help.

Marco Affronte
Responsabile Scientifico
Fondazione Cetacea ONLUS
via Ascoli Piceno - 47838 Riccione (RN) ITALY
+39 0541 691557 (phone) / +39 0541 475830 (fax)
Skype: affrofc
http://fondazionecetacea.org

__________________________________________________________________________

The survivability of sea turtles is uncanny, isn't it. I'd euthanize this specimen.

Charles LeBuff
Caretta Research Inc.
[email protected]

__________________________________________________________________________

I agree with Charles. Release would likely set this animal up for a slow, painful death. It's a sad business sometimes.

Dave Addison
Co-Director Environmental Science & Lead Biologist
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida
239.403.4230

__________________________________________________________________________

Marco,

I would not release the turtle; he wouldn't have the crushing capabilities to eat crustaceans. I disagree with Charles about euthanasia, if the turtle is doing well in captivity and can eat dead fish or squid on his own or even if hand fed why euthanize him. If you can't keep the turtle as a permanent resident, maybe there is another facility willing to take him in. I know we would consider taking him if need be. We have turtles that can't be released due to various injuries and they adapt very well in captivity. We even have a turtle that is missing most of his jaw from a boat hit and is non-releasable, but does very well with us.

Tammy Langer
Director Sea Turtle Nesting and Sea Turtle Rehabilitation
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
249 Windward Passage
Clearwater, Florida 33767
727-441-1790, ext. 224
[email protected]

__________________________________________________________________________

Why not send it to one of the many AZA accredited public aquariums? The animal would receive the care it needs, would not become re-infested, and would serve as an obvious display animal demonstrating the continuing conflict between wildlife and human encroachment.

Malcolm L. McCallum
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Texas A&M University Texarkana
2600 Robison Rd.
Texarkana, TX 75501
O: 1-903-223-3134
H: 1-903-791-3843
Homepage: https://www.eagle.tamut.edu/faculty/mmccallum/index.html

__________________________________________________________________________

Marco - Congratulations on the surgery!

Before you take the advice that was previously given (quoted in the following message), I suggest you get some expert opinions as to the potential quality of life this turtle would have in captivity if it can't be released.

If it can't be released, in an appropriate setting its predicament may show people how human activities (namely propellers) can cause untold harm to turtles.

Since this turtle is now eating on its own, has flourished in captivity, and you are considering its release, it seems totally unnecessary to kill it. Unless it cannot have a decent quality of life in captivity, to kill it now seems to defeat the object of rescuing in the first place (and a waste of surgical skill).

Juanita Ladyman, PhD.
Botanical and Ecological Consultant
Centennial, CO

__________________________________________________________________________

Marco,

The comments by Juanita Ladyman are unrealistic and are emotionally charged.
This poor animal should have been euthanized at the get-go. What quality of life can this creature expect and what would its survival potential really be if liberated? I can't express my opinion simply enough: NIL!

Granted, your surgical skills probably improved, but in this instance this severely handicapped loggerhead shouldn't be allowed to exist in a circus sideshow atmosphere. The public can be educated as to what a severely injured sea turtle looks like through photographs and not through the exhibition of a live disfigured animal's misfortune -- to me it smacks of cruelty.

Charles LeBuff
Caretta Research Inc.
[email protected]

__________________________________________________________________________

I don't disagree with you.

Malcolm L. McCallum
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Texas A&M University Texarkana
2600 Robison Rd.
Texarkana, TX 75501
O: 1-903-223-3134
H: 1-903-791-3843
Homepage: https://www.eagle.tamut.edu/faculty/mmccallum/index.html

¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬__________________________________________________________________________

I strongly disagree with Charles!

Tammy Langer
Director of Sea Turtle Nesting and Rehabilitation
Clearwater Marine Aquarium

__________________________________________________________________________

If the turtle (or any animal) is in pain or not functional, I can see euthanizing it. If this creature can live by being taken care of in a protected environment, and there are those willing to do it, who is to say that is cruel? To refer to it's retention in a protected environment as being ".....allowed to exist in a circus sideshow atmosphere" is being very negative and not very accurate in many cases. Just because something is not perfect is not a reason to kill it. (History lesson anyone?)

I also don't agree with the evaluation of Juanita Ladyman's suggestions as "emotionally charged". They seemed quite reasonable to me and believe me, I have been around emotionally charged situations and remarks.

Jerry Monahan
BioTech-Retire

__________________________________________________________________________

Marco,

Certainly one should consider the opinions of those in favour of euthanasia, and weigh them equally with opinions such as my own. I encourage you to do so. However, Juanita Ladyman's suggestion was that BEFORE choosing to follow the suggestion to euthanize you "get some expert opinions as to the potential quality of life this turtle would have in captivity if it can't be released." I don't find this to be a particularly namby-pamby suggestion, myself. As for being unrealistic, I also suspect getting said expert opinions on the matter is not nearly so difficult as all that.

A fairly obvious point, made in a brief paper by the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (on amputation and treatment of necrotic limbs, a different concern but relevantly similar): "...subsequent release to a wild population is preferable to a lifetime in captivity. To just treat and rehabilitate turtles to the wild with the best medical care available is not the long term solution to handle or reduce the incidence [of injuries]...action needs to be taken to prevent [the injuries themselves].... The rescue, rehabilitation and release of each sea turtle from the STRC makes people become aware of the plight of the sea turtle and its plight in today?s anthropogenic dominated environment."

The question is whether or not rehabilitation and life in captivity can (or should attempt to) accomplish this as well. Obviously it is not preferable
to release. But in what ways would it not be preferable, specific to this case? There are complicated issues with leatherbacks of which I am aware, reducing handling and transportation stress is problematic, etc. Mr. LeBuff expresses concern about a circus side-show environment. I think...well, that is a concern...what would that mean in this case? What would the stress factors of captivity be? Would the turtle be likely to injure itself, as in the example of a captured leatherback in Israel who, while under medical supervision, constantly tried to swim west and injured its beak? I don't recall where I read about that instance, so I can unfortunately not refer you to it. Also, it is specific to a leatherback turtle, which of course is different.

While there is something to be said for making people aware of the plight of the sea turtle, and of this type of tragic injury, I am simply unsure as to how one can measure things like disorientation, trauma, a sort of, well, depressed state in physical terms, etc. I do not think that the value of a human shocked-by-the-horribleness response should outweigh the value of quality of life for the turtle. I would like to think, as I believe most of us would, that a good life for this turtle could be possible in captivity.
Perhaps Mr. LeBuff's rather emotionally charged response stems from experiences he has had in this realm, ones that lead him to believe otherwise. But I hope that some other experts on the matter will weigh in on this, since sea turtles, after all, do not respond to the world in the same way we do. My fear would be that with all good intentions, the turtle would not be well.

Could we have some more responses re: quality of life of loggerheads in permanent captivity? Perhaps some helpful examples, data, observations, and experiences, as well as learned lessons?

Renee Holland
Atlanta GA

__________________________________________________________________________

Dear all:
I wish to chime in with the discussion on the release of the jaw-crushed rehabilitated turtle. First off, I take my hat off to those who worked so hard reconstructing this turtle's jaw. What you did is miles from being even remotely comparable in modern times, and I hereby salute you. The fact your turtle survived this ordeal is thanks to none but yourselves, and I am amazed that that was not one of the first comments I saw online. How this turtle will do in the real world is debatable. As some point out, it might not make it. But what if it does? What then, eh? Are all you people who were such naysayers going to eat your own garbage? Give some people some credit where due. They saw a turtle in need and helped it, and all you could to was pour scorn on the process. Shame on you. I, for one, think it is admirable that people want to help, in any way they can. If the turtle does not make it, well so be it, but if it does, it will only be because these folk put in the effort where the rest of you would have euthanased it. Again. Shame on you. It does not take a turtle to rehabilitate a population. It takes the collective efforts of people willing to help. Maybe they are not all great scientists with an in-depth understanding of turtle biology, but if they aren't allowed to make a difference or acknowledged for what they believe in, who will be? A turtle a day keeps the sky the man away, so my granny told me, and I hope the day-to-day folk out there continue to have a heart for what they do, rather than being rebuked for wanting to save a life.
Nick

Dr. Nicolas J. Pilcher
Co-Chair IUCN SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group
Executive Director
Marine Research Foundation
136 Lorong Pokok Seraya 2
Taman Khidmat
88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Malaysia

Telephone: ++ 60 88 386136
Fax: ++ 60 88 387136
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.mrf-asia.org

__________________________________________________________________________

CTURTLE listmembers,

I do volunteer work with our state’s Department of Natural Resources. They have animals that are used for educational purposes at events around the state. The animals are non-releasable. Most of them were severely injured as a result of an accident with a vehicle or due to some other injury (usually human-caused). They are very well cared for and live long and tranquil lives. Most importantly, they help to educate the public. When people see a beautiful, otherwise healthy eagle with a missing wing resulted from a gunshot wound, or a blind owl that was hit by a car, or a turtle that suffered damage to a limb when struck by a car, a lesson is usually learned right on the spot. Yes something was lost, but something can also be gained, and that is an immediate awareness in the cause and effect of recless action as well as perhaps a greater appreciation for all of life.

So my question is, why shouldn’t this sea turtle survive in an appropriate setting (an aquarium?) where it can help to educate the public and at the same time live out the remainder of its life in relative tranquillity?

Thanks,

Rudy Benavides
State Department of Natural Resources (USA)

__________________________________________________________________________

I am curious what role this could play in its ability to mate (didn't hear if it was male or female. Do the males use their mouth at all to grab the females? If so, this individual might be incapable of reproducing but capable of causing disruption of reproduction between other turtles.

Just a thought.

Malcolm L. McCallum
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
Texas A&M University Texarkana
2600 Robison Rd.
Texarkana, TX 75501
O: 1-903-223-3134
H: 1-903-791-3843
Homepage: https://www.eagle.tamut.edu/faculty/mmccallum/index.html

__________________________________________________________________________

Hi all,

I remember a debate similar to this one several years ago. We were discussing about 4 turtles killed in a traditional event somewhere in Oceania (I think). Sample size=1 or 4 is too small to be worried about conservation of the species.

First, as Nich Pilcher, I want to congratulate Marco and the staff involved for the really great job done.

Second, if the turtle "became able to autonomously feed" I would release it. Of course it won't be able to crash mollusck shell, but it can feed on jellyfish, pelagic tunicates or discarded fish and squid (the more common preys for juvenile loggerhead registered in the Western Mediterranean).

Third, I strongly recommend its release, but tagged (preferably with satellite transmitter). This could show you how the things are going on in the wild. We use to tag and release loggerhead turtles stranded alive after surgery and rehabilitation, some of them after suffering amputation of one front flipper due to entanglement (I have seen turtles nesting with one front flipper). One day we found one of these one-flipper turtles (a smaller one) stranded dead just three weeks after release it. This maked us to take the decision of waiting for these turtles to reach longer carapace length to send them back to the sea.

My two (three) cents.

Cheers,

Jesús Tomás
Marine Zoology Unit
Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary
Biology
University of Valencia
P.O. Box 22085
46071 Valencia, Spain
e-mail: [email protected] tel. +34 963 543 685
fax +34 963 543 733
http://www.uv.es/cavanilles/zoomarin/pages_eng/bio_conshtm


Dear Marco,

I would like to add my opinion to the many that have already been expressed on the future of your turtle. First of all, I want to congratulate you and your team for the good job done saving this animal. Although I can understand your interest in releasing the turtle now that it can eat autonomously and seems in good health, I would strongly advise against this choice for the following reasons:

1) from the photo you sent us it seems that the turtle completely misses the nose cavity and probably the related sensory organ. These are likely to be very important in the daily activity of loggerheads that have been shown to pump water through the nostrils during most part of the day, probably to get chemical information from the surrounding environment. Although we do not have definite evidences about the importance of the olfaction in loggerhead turtles we must be conservative and consider that this animal will likely be strongly handicapped in the wild, much more than an animal missing one flipper.

2) Although it can feed in captivity it doesn’t mean that it will do it once in the wild. Jellyfish are common food resources in the open sea or in some period of the year but what will happen when or if this animal will recruit to neritic habitat. It would be like condemning it to a long and very slow starvation.

Regarding the possibility to put the turtle down I do not agree at all. I know that there are several good arguments supporting it but it is a matter of personal choices and for people like me killing an animal will never be a chance, no matter how expensive it will be to keep her in captivity.

I think that this last point makes clear what will be my last suggestion. There are several public aquarium that will be happy to raise this animal. We had a similar experience with one of our turtles which is missing the lower jaw. Since 6 years it is at the Aquarium Le NAVIand it has become a living example of what human impact on the marine ecosystem means. Peppino, this is the name of the turtle, probably is not as happy as a free ranging turtle, but it is still alive and each day it helps hundreds of scholars to understand that environmental friendly behaviour is a must.

Flegra Bentivegna
Curator of Naples Aquarium
Villa Comunale 1
80121 Naples

tel: 0039-081-5833-222
fax: 0039-081-5833-294
mailto:[email protected]

__________________________________________________________________________

I would like to thank the list for all the replies we had for our
"case".
Each one of them has been very useful, drastic ones included.
We are planning to take a decision for the unlucky turtle in a few days,
and it will be my obligation to let the list know what we will decide to
do.

Thank you again

Marco and Fegghy (the turtle)

Marco Affronte
Responsabile Scientifico
Fondazione Cetacea ONLUS
via Ascoli Piceno - 47838 Riccione (RN) ITALY
+39 0541 691557 (phone) / +39 0541 475830 (fax)
skype: affrofc
http://fondazionecetacea.org

__________________________________________________________________________

Hello Marco,

I believe you are on the right track --- but. I have no knowledge of your work at this time and only heard of the "jawless Loggerhead". I have been working in nest area protection in Central America for five years or more, and also have been involved with fisheries for 30 years. It is irresponsible management that is the root of most of our marine problems. With only 5% plus or minus of US fisheries being monitored who knows how many marine turtles really die at sea? I know that some skippers will fire you for ever mentioning that there was a Leatherback in the haul.

The problems facing marine turtles are seemingly endless -- I could talk to you for hours and hours before touching on all the threats to their survival, as I am sure you know.

Trying to save a Loggerhead that is so close to death, and has only a micro chance of survival -- is a testimonial to the condition we have let the Ocean slip into. We need to raise awareness to the plight of the Marine Turtle and you have done the right thing by pushing the limits.

The public does not realize that NMFS sips coffee while allowing the incidental death of 100,000 turtles a year. I better not get started but I really want to let you know that you are a true "Turtle Hero".

Thank-you for leading the fight instead of following the sheep.

Marc W. Ward
Executive Director
Sea Turtles Forever
www.seaturtlesforever.com