Tucker the Constipated Sea Turtle Gets Breakthrough Medical Care

In a story that seems scientifically designed to push the Internet’s buttons in all the right ways, this April a constipated sea turtle is receiving groundbreaking medical treatment from a team of veterinarians in Seattle.

To be blunt, Tucker can’t fart. To help the turtle get rid of the extra air bubbles in his body, he was brought to the Virginia Mason Hospital for treatment in a pressurized hyperbaric oxygen chamber. According to various reports, Tucker is the first ever non-human to receive such treatment.

Tucker is a 20-year-old olive sea turtle, an endangered marine species of turtles. In December, Tucker was found half-dead on a stretch of Oregon coastline, far, far away from his natural habitat in the California-Mexico region of the Pacific Ocean.

Tucker was whisked away to the Seattle Aquarium, where he was treated for hypothermia and pneumonia. Veterinarians discovered why Tucker the sea turtle was found so very far away from his sunny home.

Sea turtles must be able to regulate their buoyancy in order to dive, but because Tucker cannot release the excess gas in his body, he’s stuck floating on the surface. Not only does this make it difficult for the turtle to find food, but it also makes him vulnerable to predators and passing boats.

In effect, the unfortunately constipated turtle is suffering from ‘the bends’, an extremely painful condition sometimes experienced by scuba divers with too much air inside their bodies.

“We have treated many scuba divers over the years for a gas bubble disease known as decompression sickness, which is also called ‘the bends.’ This is the first time we have been asked to assist in the care of a sea turtle, which are excellent divers themselves,” said James Holm, medical director at the center for hyperbaric medicine.

The Seattle Aquarium is still looking after the rescued turtle, and more testing will be required before he can safely dive again. Tucker recently underwent a series of CT scans to determine whether the treatments are working.

Better known as CAT scans, these X-rays are taken as fast as 30 frames per second to create a 3D model of an object — in this case, an endangered sea turtle. CT scanning technology has a number of industrial and medical applications, but once again Tucker is the first sea turtle to receive such treatments, a fact that isn’t lost on his radiologists.

“Everybody’s rooting for Tucker,” veterinary radiologist Tory McKlveen said. “People here are so excited when he comes.”

Ultimately, his caretakers hope to release him back to the wild.

“He’s had a lot of excitement this week, but we hope that covering his head and giving him sedation helps him through this process and helps him not be too stressed,” explained Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner.

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