Saturday, June 22, 2024

Can Sea Turtles Get The Bends When Caught In Fishing Nets?


Six out of seven sea turtle species are endangered, and humans are primarily responsible.

Commercial fishing activities are the largest human-caused disturbance to sea turtles due to accidental capture.

The problem is that fishers are typically unaware if a sea turtle is caught in their net until it’s completely pulled out of the water.

But just releasing the turtle straight back into the water could be problematic, researchers have found.

When they’re accidentally caught, the turtles’ normal diving processes are interrupted, which can cause abnormal gas in their organs, gas emboli, to form. Veterinarians around the globe are working to understand the possible consequences of this pathology and determine the best treatment for turtles depending on when they surface.

In one instance, they used ultrasound imaging to get a closer look at sea turtles’ bodies in real time, focusing on the heart, liver and kidney.

Katherine Eltz, a first-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, determined that there are ways to differentiate gas levels over time in sea turtles. Eltz, whose home laboratory focuses on ultrasound imaging for decompression sickness mitigation in humans, collaborated with veterinarians who measured gas emboli in turtles in real time on fishing boats. She presented her research this past week in Canada as part of a joint meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the Canadian Acoustical Association.

According to Eltz:

“Veterinarians can examine whole-body MRI or X-ray scans and find specific bubbles in a variety of different organs. The benefit of ultrasound is that we can see bubbles flowing through vessels or stationary in tissues. The portability of ultrasound means that it can be brought onto fishing boats, which we took advantage of to collect half of the data used in this project.”

Her collaborators from the Oceanogràfic Foundation were the first to report decompression sickness in turtles. Eltz examined ultrasound data collected from sea turtles found off the coast of Brazil, Italy and Spain, though this issue is found in sea turtles worldwide. The data collection from Eltz’s collaborators at Oceanogràfic comes from veterinarians who joined fishers off the coasts of these countries and imaged the turtles immediately to monitor their bubbles after surfacing.

Eltz added:

“The largest task still at hand is to work towards standardizing the acquisition of the ultrasound data collected for this project. Now, I can work with veterinarians to help adjust their methods, including improved image processing to standardize the data in post-processing.”

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.