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Sea Turtle Undergoes Hyperbaric Therapy

Seattle Aquarium veterinarians are treating the ridley sea turtle for buoyancy problems.

Seattle Aquarium

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A sea turtle is claiming the No. 1 spot as the first nonhuman to be treated in the United States in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. Veterinarians are hoping to compress internal gas bubbles that are keeping the turtle from diving and staying underwater.

According to the Seattle Aquarium:

“The 70-pound olive ridley sea turtle, named Tucker by aquarium staff who have cared for him since December, is undergoing tests at the Seattle Aquarium this week to determine if ridley sea turtle, named Tucker by aquarium staff who have cared for him since December, is undergoing tests at the Seattle Aquarium this week to determine if hyperbaric therapy—which involved breathing 100 percent oxygen for about 2 ½ hours—corrected his buoyancy problem. The turtle cannot be safely released back into the Pacific Ocean until he is able to dive normally, which is important for him to find food and avoid predators and other threats, such as boats.”


Virginia Mason, Seattle Aquarium partner to provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help rescued sea turtle recover. It is believed to be the first time the therapy has been used for a sea turtle in the United States with Tucker's specific ailment. Learn more in our latest blog: blog.SeattleAquarium.org/conservation/sea-turtle-recover/

Posted by Seattle Aquarium on Thursday, March 31, 2016

"We are honored that the Seattle Aquarium team contacted us about using hyperbaric oxygen as a possible treatment to help Tucker on his road to recovery,” said Dr. Holm in a Seattle Aquarium press release. Holm is board-certified in undersea and hyperbaric medicine and has been a scuba diver for 40 years. “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.”

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Tucker was discovered back in December on the Oregon coast, far away from California and Mexico where he should have been. Stranded and near death, he was taken to the Seattle Aquarium for treatment and rehabilitation for pneumonia. He has regained weight and is at a normal body temperature, but the gas bubbles remain a problem. If Tucker can't dive, he can't find food and survive in the wild. 

Veterinarians are now determining if the treatment has fixed Tucker's buoyancy problem.

This type of therapy has been done before in Spain. Tucker's case may be the first time this treatment has been performed in the United States.

Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner, DVM, MPH, said, “This has been an exciting collaboration of veterinary medicine and human health care providers."

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