Cold Stunned Sea Turtles’ Care Continues

The four sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Greensboro Science Center are getting stronger and healthier every day. The team of aquarists and our vet are monitoring the turtles to assess when they will be ready for release. Their actual release date will be contingent on the state’s recommendation. The aquarists continue to provide care and evaluate the behavior of the turtles to make sure they are acting as healthy, wild sea turtles.

Aquarist & veterinarian examine sea turtles

Sea turtle swimmingHealthy sea turtles swim freely in their space; are relaxed and not skittish. Fortunately, our turtles are utilizing all the water in the tanks. They swim around, across, and throughout the water column. Sea turtles are reptiles and they must surface to breathe air, so you would think that they would float like humans do when they fill their lungs with air. But divers have observed how sea turtles appear to lie still and float under the water surface, whereas humans naturally rise and float on the surface. Sea turtles can regulate the volume of air in their lungs, so as they dive, the lungs compress and they become less buoyant, or neutrally buoyant, and essentially “float” in the water column. A healthy, neutrally buoyant turtle will float in the water parallel to the surface, but not necessarily on the surface. A turtle that isn’t able to float parallel is a sign something is wrong.

In addition to good healthy behavior, the team monitors the turtles’ diet. Aquarists feeding the turtles daily and they have noticed that the turtles’ appetites are growing. Adult turtles are herbivores (plant eaters), feeding on sea grasses and algae, but as juveniles they have a more diverse diet. Juveniles are omnivores (plant and meat or animal eaters), including a diet of jellyfish, crustaceans, and sponges. At the Center, the turtles are receiving a diet that consists of fish, squid, some lettuce and gel food. Gel food is a vegetarian alternative to their diet. They are not so impressed with this option, but they have readily accepted the other items!

Veterinary Care for Green Sea Turtles

The animal care team is happy to report that the four green sea turtles being rehabilitated at the Greensboro Science Center are settling in nicely to their temporary spaces. These turtles were among the hundreds rescued off the North Carolina coast, cold-stunned after a sudden drop in water temperature. The GSC, along with other aquarium facilities, are housing and rehabilitating the turtles until they can be released back to the Atlantic.

Rehabilitation of sea turtles is a multi-faceted effort. It involves proper veterinary care, diet, behavior monitoring and adequate, but not too much, human interaction. Cold-stunned symptoms are similar to those of hypothermia. Since turtles are reptiles, they cannot regulate their body temperature. When the ocean temperature dropped from their preferred 70 degrees to close to 50 degrees, the turtles were left in cold shock. Their heart rate dropped so their circulation slowed down, and they became lethargic and able only to float in the water. This reaction to cold causes their breathing to become irregular, and as a consequence, susceptible to pneumonia, and unable to maintain proper buoyancy in the water. The four turtles at the Center are being treated with a prophylactic antibiotic to prevent diseases onset by the cold. We are happy to report they have received their final dose of antibiotic, which they were receiving every 72 hours since they arrived at the GSC six days ago.

Sea Turtles Receiving Veterinary Care

The GSC vet has been monitoring the health of the sea turtles. The turtles were examined upon arrival to make sure their overall body condition was good. He looked over their flippers and carapace, or shell. By moving their flippers, our vet could assess the condition of their joints. He examined their eyes, mouths and tongues to make sure their mucus membranes were healthy.

Sea Turtle with BarnaclesHe also looked at their “barnacle load.” Barnacles, often seen on boat hulls and piers, are crustaceans, related to crabs or lobsters. They float in the water as juveniles, attach themselves to something, secrete a substance to create their hard calcite outer layer and spend the rest of their lives as sessile (immobile) filter feeders. Most are harmless to their host; however, the amount of barnacles on a turtle can be a sign of their health. Healthier turtles tend to have fewer barnacles.

The turtles have been steadily getting stronger and have responded well to the antibiotics. While that particular treatment is complete, they will continue to be monitored until they are released.

Greensboro Science Center to Rehabilitate Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles

You may have seen the recent news about cold-stunned sea turtles being rescued off the North Carolina coast. Our colleagues at the North Carolina Aquariums were quick to step up and assist. Although many turtles have already recovered and been released back into the Atlantic, there are still a large number that need additional rehabilitation. The North Carolina Aquarium has asked the Greensboro Science Center to assist with a state-wide effort to help these turtles recover.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

Earlier today, we received 4 green sea turtles. Our aquarium and veterinary team will administer medical assistance as needed, provide them with a healthy diet, and monitor their recovery until they are strong enough to be released back into the ocean. The turtles will be housed behind the scenes of the aquarium during their treatment, and will not be on exhibit for visitors to view. We will, however, be sure to post updates along with photos and video on our social media channels so everyone can follow the progress of these endangered animals.

Facilities like ours work collaboratively with other aquariums, zoos, and state and federal agencies to help protect and preserve wild animals and places. Efforts such as this sea turtle rescue are possible because of well-trained aquarists, properly equipped facilities, and global conservation networks. While aquariums are known for providing visitors the opportunity to experience rare and exotic animals in a safe environment, a lesser-known fact is that they also contribute to global conservation efforts. The Greensboro Science Center is proud to be able to help rehabilitate these sea turtles as part of one such effort.