The Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center has treated dozens of green and brown sea turtles over the past few years, but no case has been graver than Frankie’s, a brown female sea turtle found with a crushed skull after it was hit by a passing boat.
Frankie’s near 3.5-year rehabilitation has been the longest and most complex to ever be attempted in Israel.
In 2009, the center received a call from a fisherman, who detected an injured sea turtle in the water.
“He said it was bleeding heavily from a head wound but he couldn’t reach it,” Yaniv Levy, the center’s manager, recalled. I called a police boat and together with Israel Nature and National Parks Service
inspector Eyal Cohen, they were able to extract it and bring it to the Rescue Center.”
Turtle emergencies are not new to the center, whose team treats turtles sporting a wide range of injuries boat propellers and fishing nets and hooks, but Frankie’s injuries were especially grave.
“Unlike most turtles, which drift ashore and suffer sometimes for months before they reach us, this was a fresh, critical injury that required emergency surgery,” Levy recalls.
“Its skull was crushed from the force of the injury, but we had every hope it would survive. Sea turtles have very high endurance compared to other animals.”
Frankie was rushed to Veterinarian Tzahi Eisenberg’s clinic in Rehovot, who has operated on dozens of sea turtles.
“Despite the fracture, which ran along the skull, its brain luckily remained intact,” he said. “It suffered from a broken beak, its eye was dislocated because of a broken eye socket and we also had to remove part of its salt gland,” he said.
Sea turtles excrete the salts accumulated in their bodies through their tear ducts.
Eisenberg was eventually able to set Frankie’s skull, and by using special wires and screws, the turtle’s head was literally put back together.
For the next four months, the turtle was in the Center’s ICU where caretakers used a special feeding tube to nourish it. Slowly, in its own private pool, Frankie began healing and eventually began eating on its own.