Ecologist gives drowning turtle mouth-to-mouth resusciatation

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Wildlife ecologist David Steen probably didn’t think when he learned CPR that he would need to use it on a Florida cooter. But that’s exactly what happened when he came across one that was drowning while studying Alabama red-bellied turtles.

In a series of email exchanges, Steen gave more details about the odd rescue.

“I have never given a turtle mouth-to-mouth before and it’s not something I hope to do again!” said Steen. “I was kind of making it up as I went along,”

Steen had been checking on some aquatic traps in the area and discovered that a cooter had swallowed water after becoming tangled in the trap. Normally the traps have a waterless section for breathing, but if they can become disturbed, eliminating the valuable air pocket.

He placed the turtle in the bottom of his boat, but after it failed to move for 20 minutes, Steen took action. He attempted to re-create chest compressions for the animal by squeezing near the back legs. Steen recalls, “Pressing on the shell wasn’t an option so I reached under the shell and tried to push upwards on the animal’s hindquarters. I was encouraged by some gurgling noises and the animal began to breathe more naturally on its own.”

After making sure the turtle was fit for swimming, Steen released the cooter, which appeared none the worse for wear after its brush with death.