Rapid, safe, and effective methods of anesthetic induction and recovery are needed for sea turtles, especially in cases eligible for immediate release. This study demonstrates that intravenous propofol provides a rapid induction of anesthesia in loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles and results in rapid recovery, allowing safe return to water shortly after the procedure. Forty-nine loggerhead sea turtles were recovered as local fishery by-catch in pound nets and transported to a surgical suite for laparoscopic sex determination. Treatment animals (n = 32) received 5 mg/kg propofol intravenously (i.v.) as a rapid bolus, whereas control animals (n = 17) received no propofol. For analgesia, all animals received a 4 ml infusion of 1% lidocaine, locally, as well as 2 mg/kg ketoprofen intramuscularly (i.m.). Physiologic data included heart and respiratory rate, temperature, and a single blood gas sample collected upon termination of the laparoscopy. Subjective data included jaw tone and ocular reflex: 3 (vigorous) to 0 (none detected). Anesthetic depth was scored from 1, no anesthesia, to 3, surgical anesthesia. Turtles receiving propofol became apneic for a minimum of 5 min with a mean time of 13.7 +/- 8.3 min to the first respiration. Limb movement returned at a mean time of 21.1 +/- 16.8 min. The treatment animals were judged to be sedated for approximately 30 min (mean anesthetic depth score > or = 1.5) when compared to controls. Median respiratory rates for treatment animals were slower compared to controls for the first 15 min, then after 35 min, they became significantly faster than the controls. Median heart rates of control animals became significantly slower than treatment animals between 40 and 45 min. Physiologic differences between groups persisted a minimum of 55 min. Possible explanations for heart rate and respiratory rate differences later in the monitoring period include a compensatory recovery of treatment animals from anesthesia-induced hypoxia and hypercapnia or, alternatively, an induced response of the nonsedated control animals. The animals induced with propofol were easier to secure to the restraint device and moved less during laparoscopy. In conclusion, propofol is a safe and effective injectable anesthetic for use in free-ranging loggerhead sea turtles that provides rapid induction and recovery.