Good luck, Hiccup: Green sea turtle recovers from twitch, returns to the ocean

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Did you know sea turtles can’t hiccup?

Reptiles don’t have diaphragms, which makes hiccuping impossible. But when a green sea turtle was rescued from the shores of Brevard County last October, rescuers said its twitch made it flick its head up in a way that looked like a hiccup.

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Thus, Hiccup earned its name.

Five months after Hiccup’s rescue, the Brevard Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center returned the turtle to the sea this week.

Rescuers said they first believed Hiccup was in some sort of neurological distress, but nothing showed up on tests and the twitch eventually went away. But Hiccup’s shell was fractured and one of the bones in its neck was broken.

The Brevard Zoo said its team worked with Hiccup to slowly reacclimate it to swimming, graduating Hiccup from a kiddie pool to a regular tank after about two months.

READ: SeaWorld returns 10 critically endangered sea turtles to the wild in Brevard County

“They took a lot of time to adjust to swimming again and seemed to have a hard time controlling their buoyancy, as they would sink to the bottom like a rock,” said Healing Center coordinator Jess Patterson. “They would then have a hard time swimming to the surface, spooking any time they touched the side of the pool. Eventually, they calmed down and were able to navigate their pool better.”

Rescuers said Hiccup was unable to eat on its own, so they used a feeding tube for about four months. Once Hiccup started eating, it downed full leaves of lettuce and a full dish of fish, shrimp and clams.

READ: FWC reminds residents, visitors to help keep sea turtles safe during nesting season

“During the first few days of eating, Hiccup’s behaviors also changed,” Patterson said. “They went from being very shy and quiet to using their enrichments and actively swimming!”

With this new lease on life, officials said Hiccup acted like “a brand-new turtle” who was active and curious. Hiccup was taken off its medications and its voracious appetite returned.

READ: It’s sea turtle nesting season: Here are 9 ways you can help hatchlings survive

Hiccup was released near where it was initially found in Cape Canaveral. After being placed in the water, officials said Hiccup spent a few minutes “surfing” on the waves near the shoreline before swimming out of sight.

Photos: Sea turtle sightings along Central Florida shores

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.