One of the most frequent questions that I get asked as owners are passing the time waiting for their dog or cat’s acupuncture needles to be taken out ( this is a time period of anywhere between 10-20 minutes on average) goes something like this… So, what is the most interesting animal that you have ever done acupuncture on? It was never a question I particularly enjoyed as I never felt that I had a great answer. Most of my practice is dogs and cats with the occasional rabbit or pocket pet thrown in. Past this, I occasionally see injured wildlife- usually small mammals or birds. So, until recently, my best answer to this question was generally along the lines of squirrel, rabbit, guinea pig.
Over the last year, however, my attitude toward this question has changed. I can now claim to having treated two sea turtles.
About a year ago the dedicated folks at the Marine Stranding and Rescue Center in Virginia Beach, VA brought two sea turtles in to a clinic where I was working for evaluation and possible acupuncture treatments. Both turtles had problems with mobility. There was a small green sea turtle named Frosty who was about the size of a dinner plate and a large loggerhead sea turtle who weighed upwards of two hundred pounds. His name was Atlantis.
We decided to give it a try as other therapies were not improving the turtles’ conditions. Amazingly, we found references to a few acupuncture points in turtles, so myself and a second acupuncture trained veterinarian began with these. I coupled these treatments with chiropractic adjustments on their necks.
The initial treatments went well, but it was decided that the stress of the hour long trip would be too much on the turtles on a regular basis. Thus began my travels to Va Beach to the Stranding and Rescue center. This center is an arm of the Va aquarium which too is based in Va Beach. The Stranding and Rescue center is off site from the main aquarium to ensure that the rescued animals and their caretakers do not expose any of the aquarium stock to disease. It is an old warehouse filled with many massive tanks temporarily housing everything from turtles to seals. The goal for every animal who comes into the center is release back into the wild.
Frosty originally arrived at the Center with a scar over his shell, suggesting some type of trauma. His issues all involved severe weakness in his hind flippers, and it was thus presumed that he had sustained some sort of spinal injury secondary to trauma in the wild. Atlantis, on the other hand, was at the Center being treated for other issues when he suddenly developed a head tilt, inability to float flat in the water and loss of mobility in his front flippers. It was not clear whether these symptoms were the result of a brain lesion, infection or some other unknown pathology. When first brought in for acupuncture, both of the turtles had plateaued in their recoveries and the fear was that they would not be releasable.
Both of these species of sea turtle are listed as threatened in the endangered species act and the green sea turtle is also listed as endangered. Given this status, release was especially significant. I should note here that I am referring to both of these turtles as “he”, but we did not know their sexes. One female sea turtle has the potential to lay 100 plus eggs per nest and a loggerhead may lay four to seven nests in one laying season. These eggs are then left unprotected and the majority of the hatchlings will never make it through their first hours of life, but given the dwindling numbers of turtles in the seas, each one can make a difference.
Both turtles took well to their treatments and did not fight either their adjustments or their ever changing acupuncture point protocols. As time went on, I learned that the turtles’ shells are very sensitive and began acupuncturing them through their shells as well. Frosty, a firecracker of a turtle, responded first and showed a steady pattern of improvement in strength and mobility. Atlantis was more difficult to judge, he would seem better some days and worse others. I finally added some Chinese herbals into his protocol, and we began to see the improvements that we were looking for.
The happy ending to this story is that both turtles were released into the Chesapeake Bay in late June of 2008. Tracking devices were placed on them at the time so that the stranding and rescue center can keep track of their progress and potentially learn more about the habits of these elusive creatures in the seas. I am honored to have been able to be a part of their recovery.