On-board study of gas embolism in marine turtles caught in bottom trawl fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean
Decompression sickness (DCS) was first diagnosed in marine turtles in 2014. After capture in net fisheries, animals typically start showing clinical evidence of DCS hours after being hauled on-board, often dying if untreated. These turtles are normally immediately released without any understanding of subsequent clinical problems or outcome. The objectives of this study were to describe early occurrence and severity of gaseous embolism (GE) and DCS in marine turtles after incidental capture in trawl gear, and to provide estimates of on-board and post-release mortality. Twenty-eight marine turtles were examined on-board fishing vessels. All 20 turtles assessed by ultrasound and/or post-mortem examination developed GE, independent of season, depth and duration of trawl and ascent speed. Gas emboli were obvious by ultrasound within 15 minutes after surfacing and worsened over the course of 2 hours. Blood data were consistent with extreme lactic acidosis, reduced glomerular filtration, and stress. Twelve of 28 (43%) animals died on-board, and 3 of 15 (20%) active turtles released with satellite tags died within 6 days. This is the first empirically-based estimate of on-board and post-release mortality of bycaught marine turtles that has until now been unaccounted for in trawl fisheries not equipped with turtle excluder devices.