Local News

N.C. State vets head to Gulf coast to help sea turtles

Posted June 16, 2010 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated June 18, 2010 12:52 p.m. EDT

— Three North Carolina University veterinarians are headed to the Gulf coast to help sea turtles affected by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. Greg Lewbart, a professor of aquatic animal medicine at N.C. State, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called him Wednesday morning requesting help.

“I’ve not worked with oiled sea turtles before. I’ve really not worked with oiled animals at all,” Lewbart said.

Lewbart and two turtle experts from the College of Veterinary Medicine are headed south. Lewbart’s first stop will be New Orleans where he’ll likely examine a large group of turtles recently pulled from the Gulf.

“We have a lot of experience looking at blood work and other diagnostic tests -- radiographs or X-rays -- those types of things,” he said.

The veterinarians do not yet know the condition of the turtles they’ll be working with, but Lewbart said the biggest problem could be turtles that ingested oil.

“We’re going to be worried about immune compromise, their natural ability to fight off diseases,” he said. “Certainly it’s toxic in its own right.”

The latest figures show that 783 birds, 353 turtles and 41 mammals have died since the spill.

For someone dedicated to the research and care of turtles, Lewbart said the scenes from the Gulf are tough to see.

“Like everybody, we’re all frustrated. It’s a monumental disaster,” he said.

The veterinarians are expected to be along the Gulf Coast for at least two weeks.