Yesterday Dr. Mettee conducted a necropsy on Lola to determine cause of death. With all the shell material and concerns about her digestive system we were sure that was where the problem would be. We expected to find a perforated intestine or at least severely damaged sections of intestine related to the immense amount of sand dollars in there (x-ray here).
Turns out the intestine was completely intact and healthy. There was some scarring in the inside of the intestine itself from the sand dollars but it appeared that she was beginning to improve. We saw evidence of this during her last few days – increased appetite, energy and and alertness.
So what went wrong? Congestive heart failure. There was a small tear in the pulmonary trunk and essentially she bled out into the pericardial sac that surrounds the heart. We do not know what caused the weakened part of the pulmonary trunk however, there was a clearly visible lesion in the area. We will send the tissue to a pathologist to try to determine what caused the problem.
Unfortunately, there was nothing we could have done to predict or prevent such an event. Fortunately for Lola it was likely a quick and painless death.
Below is a sea turtle heart, thanks to Dr. Jeanette Wyneken.
From “The Anatomy of Sea Turtles” Copyright 2001 Jeanette Wyneken