“Jaltemba” the Hawksbill: One Month after Her Rescue

Jaltemba, the juvenile Hawksbill turtle, has certainly caught the attention of residents and tourists in the Jaltemba Bay area and Riviera Nayarit since becoming caught on a fishing line a month ago. (Note: I refer to Jaltemba as female here, however we do not know what sex the turtle is.)

In the last update on Jaltemba, we had just received the permits to move her to the research centre CIIDIR-IPN in Guasave Sinaloa (Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional del Instituto Politécnico Nacional), where we hoped to remove the hook from her throat and rehabilitate her for release.

That was 20 days ago, so what’s happened since? Well I am very pleased to say that Jaltemba is on the road to recovery!

When Jaltemba and I arrived at the CIIDIR-IPN, she was taken immediately for an x-ray and we were shocked to see the large size of the hook stuck deep in her throat. It became clear that removing it would not be a routine procedure.

We spent the next day trying different methods to remove the hook. Although we could reach it, Jatemba’s small size meant that we could not use the specially designed hook-remover for sea turtles. As soon as we moved the hook, it immediately became stuck again. It was time for a new plan.

In order to remove the hook, we needed to see exactly what we were doing deep inside Jaltemba’s throat, and for that we needed an endoscope. Of course with funding low, we didn’t have one. So it was decided that we would visit the local vet MVZ Jesús Pineda who had an ultrasound machine and was kind enough to help us with our unusual request… “can you use the ultrasound on the throat of this critically endangered sea turtle?” After a few attempts it was clear that the ultrasound would not let us see the hook, so we weighed Jaltemba at 5.18 kg and then put her in the truck to take her back to the research centre. We knew that we needed to make an incision in Jaltemba’s throat to push the tip of the hook through, but there was a real risk of the hook cutting important veins as we did not know in what direction it was pointing. We needed that endoscope!

Help was at hand. MVZ Jesús Pineda said that the vet at the Culiacan Zoo had an endoscope. He made the call to MVZ Roy Quintero, who after hearing of Jaltemba’s problem, agreed to come the very next day with the endoscope!

It was now the 14th of May, 15 days since the small Hawksbill had been handed in to the Red Tortuguera A.C. Although she was being tube fed, she had lost weight. It was now or never.

Team Work: So on Tuesday morning, we all (3 biologists and 2 vets) took Jaltemba out of her tank and got to work. A tube was inserted into Jaltemba’s throat to keep her jaw open and to pass the endoscope deep into her throat to see what was happening. Pliers were used to rotate the hook away from the veins and to ensure that it pointed downwards (away from her brain). A 3 mm incision was then made in her throat, and the point of the hook was pushed through. By using a pair of pliers, the point of the hook was cut off allowing the rest of the hook to be removed through Jaltemba’s mouth. The incision was then stitched up and we were left with an exhausted turtle and a happy team.

The next morning, we noticed that Jaltemba was diving better in her tank which was a good sign. She was put on a course of antibiotics to help her recover. It took a week before Jaltemba began to eat solids again. She is a fan of shrimp and small calamari and Alan Zavala has informed me that the way she is going, she will become the first obese sea turtle in Nayarit when she is returned for release in the Jaltemba Bay in July!

We hope to track Jaltemba’s movements upon release using a satellite transmitter. This would help us to see how she does on returning to the sea. So little is known about Hawksbills in the Mexican Pacific, and Jaltemba gives us an opportunity to learn about their habits which in turn would help the regional conservation projects. The transmitter costs $16,000 pesos and the satellite time is $30,000 pesos for a year. We have a month to raise the money for this equipment to follow Jaltemba during her return to the Jaltemba Bay and beyond.

I would like to highlight that over the last month this small Hawksbill has managed (if unwillingly) to attract more attention to the critical situation that sea turtles face in our region than I have managed to do in 9 years of conservation efforts. I think this highlights the fact that it is no lie when we say “every sea turtle counts.”

Lastly, I would like to thank the authorities SEMARNAT and PROFEPA who facilitated all the permits needed to save Jaltemba; M. en C. Alan Zavala who quickly arranged things at the research centre for Jaltemba’s arrival, helped remove the hook and continues to look after her; and M. en C. Paula Claussell, MVZ Jesús Pineda, MVZ Roy Quintero, Irvin González and Dr. Alonso Aguirre who all gave up their time to help save Jaltemba. Also many thanks to the CIIDIR-IPN and all the students and staff of the wildlife department.

Finally, I would like to thank all who have followed Jaltemba’s story and I hope to see you all at her release in July (8th of July to be confirmed) in the Jaltemba Bay, Rincon de Guayabitos, Nayarit.

Local teenagers learning about sea turtles and watching Jaltemba at the CIIDIR-IPN.

For more information or to help fund Jaltemba’s transmitter and satellite costs, contact Catherine E. Hart at catherine.in.guayabitos@hotmail.com or drop donations off at Hotel Peñamar in Rincon de Guayabitos. And be sure to stay tuned to JaltembaBayLife.com for future updates.

Written by Catherine E. Hart for JaltembaBayLife.com. Feel free to share or republish this story, but please give credit to JaltembaBayLife.com and/or add a link to the original story.

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