An endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle suffering from a case of gas bubble disease is receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Officials at the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Washington, say it is the first time the hospital has treated an animal for a disease known to affect scuba divers.
Tucker was found struggling off the Oregon coast in December and was treated for pneumonia and other issues when it became evident he was having buoyancy issues, making it difficult for him to dive, according to King 5 News.
Dr. Lesanna Lahner, a veterinarian at the Seattle Aquarium, and Dr. James Holm of Virginia Mason Hospital placed Tucker into the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber in what they say is the first time a non-human has received treatment in the hospital’s chamber.
“We hope to shrink the bubbles — wherever they are, and then Lesanna can help to improve his buoyancy,” Holm said in a video posted to YouTube by the hospital.
The chamber was initially set to an equivalent depth of 60 feet, and Tucker was given oxygen during the duration of his stay in the chamber. It was then adjusted to the equivalent of 30 feet during the 2.5 hour treatment, following what Holm said is a Navy protocol for divers.
Tucker will probably need a few more treatments, with the hope being that the increased air pressure combined with the oxygen will push the air bubbles out, thus allowing him to dive again like a normal sea turtle.
“It’s important to resolve this issue with the bubble disease he has so he can go back and be a breeding turtle and contribute to his population,” Lahner told King 5.
If and when the treatment is deemed a success, Tucker will be released in the waters off Southern California, far from the cold waters of Oregon in which he was first found, according to King 5.
“We are so appreciative that Virginia Mason is allowing us to do this,” Lahner said in the YouTube video. “We hope that it helps Tucker. We don’t know for sure that it will, but we’re giving it our best chance.”