Sea turtle eats eel, surprises veterinarian during surgery at Turtle Hospital

Believing shell gland infected, doctor instead removes eel from sick turtle

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor
Florida Keys News Bureau

Dr. Brooke Burkhalter removes a goldspotted snake eel from the body of a sick loggerhead sea turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

MARATHON, Fla. - A veterinarian removed an eel from the body of a loggerhead sea turtle Tuesday in the Florida Keys.

Dr. Brooke Burkhalter performed the three-hour operation to remove the goldspotted snake eel at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

The turtle, nicknamed "Shelmore," was rescued off the Florida Keys by the U.S. Coast Guard earlier this month.

Burkhalter was shocked when she removed the eel. She and other Turtle Hospital employees believed the X-rays showed a severely infected turtle shell gland and not an eel.

Hospital officials aren't sure why the turtle consumed the 2-foot-long eel, since sea turtles don't usually eat them. They also discovered that the eel, before dying, had eaten through the turtle's intestinal tract to get to the body cavity.

Although Shelmore is listed in critical condition, the turtle was swimming in a recovery tank after surgery.

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