Meet Our Young Sea Turtle!
Curious and gentle, green sea turtles have always been one of the most popular animals at the Aquarium. Recently we added a young turtle, Azul, to the Open Sea exhibit for the first time. The eight-year-old is being “mentored” by one of our large turtles, estimated to be in her 60s.
So what can you teach a turtle? Plenty, it turns out. Azul is learning how to navigate the exhibit and live alongside pelagic rays, hammerhead sharks, our rapidly growing ocean sunfish and dozens of other animals. The young turtle is also being “target trained,” so it will know to come over at mealtime.
Feeding time in our Open Sea exhibit is carefully choreographed, with five species simultaneously being fed around the rim of the million-gallon display, far above the visitor viewing area. In one corner, the pelagic ray is fed squid, fish and shrimp. Nearby, other aquarists offer fresh salmon steaks to two species of hungry sharks. On a long gangplank extending over the middle of the exhibit, another staffer hand-feeds the ocean sunfish. And, in yet another part of the exhibit, two more staff feed the turtles bell peppers and romaine lettuce, luring them over with colored floats, which they’ve learned to associate with food.
“Our experience is that these turtles are very social,” says Senior Aquarist Veronica Franklin. Unfortunately, this means they’re keenly interested in what everyone else is having for lunch. They also like to “surf” the small jet streams that circulate water into the exhibit. At times, just like a day at elementary school, it can be a little challenging to keep everyone focused and in their respective places!
Each turtle target comprises a long pole with a pool float on the end. Azul’s float is blue and white, while the larger turtle’s float is yellow with a black stripes. Believe it or not, says Veronica, “they can really tell the difference.
“It does seem to help for Azul to have a mentor,” says Veronica. “The young turtle is getting along with other species. We’re always observing the dynamics, and Azul is growing and doing just fine.”
Another pair of turtles, just like the two on exhibit, is in a separate holding facility just outside the main exhibit. Eventually, that pair will be rotated onto exhibit, and the two you see now will be moved outside. Sea turtles require occasional sun therapy to help with vitamin D absorption, making such rotations a regular occurrence.
Having the turtles outside the main exhibit also gives aquarists an opportunity to conduct “enrichments” to keep them healthy and stimulated. This can include extracting food from a block of ice, pushing around a length of pool hose or playing with kelp strands. Aquarists have even constructed a “turtle tent” from plastic pipe that serves as a navigation challenge and a post to rub their carapace on!