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Sea turtles originated approximately 112 million years ago with the date being based on the oldest known fossil, Santanachelys. There are seven species of sea turtles and Catherine is a Green Sea Turtle named by Ying Wang from California in honor of Catherine Wang.
Green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, can grow to 40 inches long with a maximum weight between 200-500 pounds. Their carapace ranges in color from olive brown to black and they get their name from the color of their fat, which is assumed to be green due to the high content of algae this species feeds upon.
The primary threats to sea turtles - beyond natural predators - are fisheries impacts, egg and/or turtle harvesting, artificial lighting and habitat degradation, human interaction, and disease.
Catherine’s front left flipper shows signs of damage that could be attributed to a close encounter with a shark, such as the Tiger Shark, which is known to feed upon turtles. She is lucky to have survived but is further impacted by a disease known as Fibropapilloma.
Fibropapilloma was first seen in 1938 in turtle populations in Hawai’i and Florida. The growths can range in size from 0.1 cm to 30 cm in diameter. The disease is now worldwide and can be seen in Loggerhead turtles, Olive Ridley turtles, and Flatback turtles. Ongoing research has shown that the tumors are not only external but can also be found internally in the lungs, liver, intestines, kidneys, and testes of sea turtles.
Originally spirochid trematodes were suspected as the cause of Fibropapilloma but research has revealed that the disease may be linked to a herpes type virus and stress.
The disease spreads internally via the circulatory system and the impact to the sea turtle primarily depends on the location of the tumors. For example, tumors on the eyes can impact vision, tumors on the flippers can impact the ability to swim, tumors in the lungs can impact breathing and lead to pneumonia, tumors in the liver can impact the filtration of toxins, etc.
As of 1998, it is estimated that over 65% of the green sea turtles in Kane’ohe Bay, Hawai’i have Fibropapilloma and up to 35% of the green sea turtles off of Moloka’i had the disease.
Catherine was sighted by the Research Team on April 29, 2011 swimming over coral substrate at Turtle Town. She was later seen at the same location on May 2, 2011 and May 9, 2011.
We appreciate your support of the research efforts of Pacific Whale Foundation with your adoption of Catherine. We hope that through learning about Catherine and Fibropilloma you will become a steward of the ocean and help us protect our oceans through science and advocacy.