MARATHON, Fla. (AFP-Jiji) — The young patient writhes on the operating table, kicking its flippers. A team of medical attendants turns it over, revealing an underbelly cluttered with tumors, some as big as golf balls.
This endangered green sea turtle, about 2 years old and too young for the staff to know yet whether it is male or female, is infected with fibropapillomatosis, a potentially deadly disease caused by a type of herpes virus.
Experts still don’t understand quite how the virus spreads, or what causes it, though some research has pointed to agricultural runoff, pollution and global warming.
As the population of green sea turtles rebounds in and around the Florida Keys, cases of fibropapillomatosis have exploded too, filling the corridors of the United States’ oldest rescue and rehab facility, known simply as the Turtle Hospital.
“When I first started here 20 years ago, I would do six to eight of these a month,” said veterinarian Doug Mader, as he injects a local anesthetic, then cuts off the cauliflower-like growths with a carbon dioxide laser.
“Now we are doing six to eight a week,” he said as the air fills with the smell of saltwater, alcohol wipes and burning flesh.