We examined the gross and microscopic pathology and distribution of sea turtles that were landed as bycatch from the Hawaii, USA–based pelagic longline fishery and known to be forced submerged. Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) composed the majority of animals examined, and hook-induced perforation of the esophagus was the most common gross lesion followed by perforation of oral structures (tongue, canthus) and of flippers. Gross pathology in the lungs suggestive of drowning was seen in 23 of 71 turtles. Considering only the external gross findings, the pathologist and the observer on board the longline vessel agreed on hook-induced lesions only 60% of the time thereby illustrating the limitations of depending on external examination alone to implicate hooking interactions or drowning as potential cause of sea turtle mortality. When comparing histology of drowned turtles to a control group of nondrowned turtles, the former had significantly more pulmonary edema, hemorrhage, and sloughed columnar epithelium. These microscopic changes may prove useful to diagnose suspected drowning in sea turtles where history of hooking or netting interactions is unknown.
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Vol. 46 • No. 2