Marine Turtle Trauma Response Procedures:  A Veterinary Guide

Norton, Terry and Nancy Mettee (2020) WIDECAST Technical Report No. 20

Death Criteria

Determination of death may be difficult. Pulses can rarely be palpated even in robust individuals and electrocardiography can be unreliable. Declaration of death should be left only to experienced individuals as a comatose or moribund turtle may often incorrectly be presumed dead by a layperson. The heart can continue to beat long after death, especially by euthanasia.

The following are some criteria which are used to establish death. A minimum of six are considered necessary to declare death:

No spontaneous movement

Lack of palpebral reflex 

Lack of corneal reflex 

Lack of gag reflex 

Loss of cloacal tone 

Ultrasonic confirmation of cardiac arrest 

Rigor mortis 

No pulse audible on Doppler flow meter

No pulse visible on EKG


This chapter should be cited: Mettee, Nancy. 2014. Death Criteria. Marine Turtle Trauma Response Procedures:  A Veterinary Guide. WIDECAST Technical Report No. 17. Accessed online [date]. 

Updated 3/2014

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