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Online Sea Turtle Necropsy Lecture Series

A series of five video lectures demonstrating how to conduct a postmortem examination, or necropsy, of sea turtles.

This lecture series is an educational resource for people who undertake or participate in postmortem examination (necropsy) of sea turtles. It is intended for use by veterinarians and non-veterinarians engaged in conservation, stranding, and rehabilitation programs with appropriate state and federal permits. This content does not replace the need for hands-on experience or professional training in veterinary medicine, pathology, or related disciplines, as required in some circumstances. Rather, these materials provide an overview of the importance of necropsy as related to sea turtles, basic procedures, and helpful practices.

Numerous photographic examples and illustrations are used to provide a broad introduction to postmortem evaluation of sea turtles and to help the viewer recognize and document abnormalities, including those that are important for sea turtle conservation. The series consists of five lectures as outlined below. You can view the embedded videos or download the video files.

All videos are enabled with closed captions in English and Spanish.  To turn on the closed captions, position your pointer over the presentation.  A menu bar will appear at the bottom.  On the right side of the menu bar is a white box with the letters “CC.”  Position the pointer over this box and click on “English CC” or “Spanish CC” to view the subtitles.

Todos los videos están habilitados con subtítulos en inglés y español. Para activar los subtítulos, coloque el puntero sobre la presentación. Aparecerá una barra de menú en la parte inferior. En el lado derecho de la barra de menú hay un cuadro blanco con las letras "CC". Coloque el puntero sobre este cuadro y haga clic en "CC inglés" o "CC español" para ver los subtítulos.

Introductory Module


Review of necropsy, its goals, important concepts, preparation, essentials of documentation & sampling.


  1. Basic principles of necropsy 0:03:05
  2. Planning & preparation 0:13:58
  3. Documentation & data collection 0:16:13
  4. Postmortem sampling 0:24:42

Module I: Basic Anatomy & Dissection


Basic anatomy, step-by-step video instruction of necropsy, key elements of postmortem examination.


  • Basic approach & terminology: 0:00:54
  • Step-by-step examination: 0:02:20
    • Removing the plastron: 0:03:30
    • Assessing nutritional condition: 0:06:17
    • Exposing the coelomic cavity: 0:08:10
    • Review of visceral anatomy (ventral): 0:14:35
    • Thyroid gland & thymus: 0:17:32
    • Heart & major vessels: 0:19:40
    • Liver & gall bladder: 0:22:20
    • Digestive system: 0:24:29
    • Review of visceral anatomy (dorsal): 0:33:03
    • Respiratory system: 0:34:02
    • Urogenital tract system and adrenal glands: 0:37:10
    • Brain, salt glands, ears: 0:42:49
  • Final steps: 0:48:18

Module II: Vital Processes & Postmortem Changes


Biological responses to injury and disease, postmortem processes, and associated morphological changes pertinent to postmortem examination.


  • Tissue responses to injury: 0:00:40
  • Alterations associated with emaciation: 0:12:10
  • Postmortem changes: 0:16:11

Module III: Epibionts, Parasites, Abnormalities


Overview of organisms that live on sea turtles (epibionts), common parasites, and examples of abnormalities that can be recognized during necropsy


  • Epibiota of sea turtles: 0:00:53
  • Parasites of sea turtles: 0:07:19
  • Abnormalities by organ system: 0:15:42
    • Integumentary system: 0:16:07
    • Musculoskeletal system: 0:20:45
    • Hemolymphatic & endocrine systems: 0:24:29
    • Cardiovascular system: 0:27:00
    • Hepatobiliary system: 0:29:12
    • Digestive system: 0:32:51
    • Respiratory system: 0:40:36
    • Urinary system: 0:46:23
    • Nervous system: 0:49:08
    • Sensory systems: 0:50:44

Module IV: Trauma & Human Interaction


Presentations of trauma, including those resulting from human actions, and principles of documentation and examination.


  • General wound types: 0:01:04
  • Biological responses to injury: 0:05:42
  • Documentation of injuries: 0:15:16
  • Injuries by cause
    • Fisheries interactions: 0:16:59
    • Vessel strikes: 0:33:14
    • Dredge interactions: 0:43:21
    • Miscellaneous human-caused trauma: 0:46:03
    • Predator & scavenger injuries: 0:53:18

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on August 28, 2020