MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A loggerhead sea turtle is recovering at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys, after officials say it consumed a two-foot eel, which in turn tried to eat its way to freedom from the turtle’s intestinal tract.
It took Dr. Brooke Burkhalter three hours Tuesday to remove the eel from the body cavity of the turtle.
The gold-spotted snake eel had died attempting to eat its way to freedom from the bowels of “Shelmore,” a subadult turtle that had been rescued on September 18 off the Florida Keys by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Burkhalter and others at the hospital at first believed the X-rays showed a severely infected turtle shell gland and not an eel, according to officials.
Officials say it is highly unusual to have found an eel inside the turtle as sea turtles don’t normally eat them.
Shelmore’s condition was listed as critical, though it was swimming in a recovery tank, officials said.
The Turtle Hospital, which opened more than 31 years ago, is the first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital in the world.
The facility is equipped with three “turtle ambulances” for patient transport and officials say it has treated and rehabilitated more than 1,700 injured sea turtles and assisted scores of hatchlings gone astray after exiting their nests.