April 15, 2009

The Little Loggerhead Who Swam to the Hospital: What Lies Beyond Us?

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You’ll find only a brief blip about the turtle who swam to the Turtle Hospital on the news, but it’s enough to stir up feelings of compassion and intrigue.

Yes, there is a Turtle Hospital. You can find it in the city of Marathon in the Florida Keys. It is a charitable corporation funded by grants, foundations and personal donations. The hospital was founded in 1986 to help treat injured sea turtles, according to its Web site.

On March 29, hospital staff saw a loggerhead turtle, who the staff call Kincaid, swim its way to the hospital. Kincaid made it to a dock only 20 feet from their turtle rehabilitation pools, and then stayed there for several hours. The hospital staff then examined Kincaid, realized he or she (the stories differ) was sick and brought the turtle into the hospital.

“We’ve went out and rescued several thousand turtles over the past 25 years,” said Turtle Hospital administrator Ryan Butts, “but this is the first time a turtle has ever tracked us down and showed up at our doorstep waiting to be admitted to The Turtle Hospital.”

Rest assured, Kincaid is fine. He or she appears to have been suffering from a bacterial infection in his or her bloodstream, and is now on antibiotics. “He just needs TLC,” Butts said.

There is something about stories involving any small animals that evokes sympathy and happiness. Admittedly, it helps if you consider the animal to be adorable. Many people will look at the picture of Kincaid and find it so. Others like me may not consider the turtle to be the cutest of creatures, with its reptilian visage and rough skin. But in times when the major news stories include economic layoffs, environmental threats and piracy, this story moved me. Yes, a turtle was enough to do it for me. It may do it for you too.

Stories like this also raise questions about how we view animals. Oftentimes I think of humans rescuing injured animals, but never of a sick animal realizing it needed treatment, knowing where to go for it and then traveling there of its own accord. I’d thought of that as something only a human would be able to do. How did Kincaid know about this hospital, and how did Kincaid know to go there?

These questions are born out of a curiosity of what life outside of humanity is like. After seeing Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, I was struck by how desperate the government officials and the affected citizens in the film were to know what this alien life was like. At the end, they still haven’t learned much of anything, but the little they discovered impacted and fascinated them. Humans have always been intrigued by the concepts of angels and demons throughout history, perhaps because, like aliens, if they exist, we’d like to know what they are like and what they are capable of doing.

And though turtles are not extraterrestrial or supernatural creatures, they are beings we can’t understand or communicate with directly. What goes on inside those brains? What do they know? What do they think about us? We can predict basic behavior, we continue make observations, and yet there is still so much we do not understand. That is humbling and invigorating – reawakening interest in a world that might otherwise seem chaotic or dull.