Monday, February 21, 2011

Because sea turtles can't surf the internet, continued...

During Sea Turtle Hospital tours, we often get the question, "Do sea turtles have feeling on their shells?" We are here to tell you, "YES!" In the wild, some sea turtles would naturally scratch their capace or shell on rocky ledges or coral reefs.

For our last entry in the environmental enrichment blog series, we would like to show you how sea turtles scratch their shells in the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital. Since we are unable to provide rocky ledges and coral reefs in the hospital tanks, we build square PVC structures that hang in the water column for sea turtles to use as backscratchers. The green sea turtles are especially fond of the PVC backscratchers, although some didn’t read the instruction manual and use it to sleep on top of like 18th Green below!

The following video is Fisher, one of the NC cold-stunned green sea turtles, loving the backscratcher we recently put in the tank.

There is no room in Frosty's tank section to hang a backscratcher so "he" uses the filter return pipe to scratch his shell.

We have found that the loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles are much less likely to use the backscratchers the way the greens do (although they do use them in other ways). They enjoy other types of shell stimulation such as water pouring into their tanks and scrub brushes. The next video is the Kemp's ridley, Little Debbie, enjoying a back scrub.

This concludes the sea turtle enrichment blog series from the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program. We hope you have enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed putting it together! If you visit the Sea Turtle Hospital, let us know that you that you saw the enrichment blogs so we can show you some of this enrichment in person. All tour days and times are on the main hospital page. We hope to see you soon!

Megan and Kelly

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Because sea turtles can't surf the internet, continued...

Another type of environmental enrichment that we use in the Sea Turtle Hospital is colorful Jolly Balls in the turtle’s tanks. While it would be nice to play a good game a fetch for mental and physical activity, the Jolly Balls serve a much simpler purpose - to add color and dimension to their tanks and help break up the sterile tank environment in which they live.

The ocean is full of natural stimuli for sea turtles. They interact with their environment more than people may think. The video below is just another example of these animals interacting with the environment that we provide. It is a short video of 18th Green enjoying the pressure of incoming water to fill the tank.

Note: 18th Green was admitted with a severe intestinal impaction that caused the turtle to float with the posterior (rear) end up. This caused the neck skin to pinch between the skull and shell, creating a callous on the top of the neck that enlarged over time. The "lump" doesn't appear to be causing any discomfort and is being monitored closely by Dr. Boylan, the Aquarium's veterinarian.

Tomorrow's blog is the last of the series so be sure to check back!

Megan and Kelly

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Because sea turtles can't search the internet, continued...

We treat three species of sea turtles in our hospital: green, Kemp's ridley, and loggerhead. To keep them all mentally stimulated, we do our best to offer natural food enrichment. Green sea turtles are primarily vegetarians and feed on sea grasses and algae in the ocean. Although we can't feed this normal ocean vegetation, we do give them a diet consisting of a variety of garden vegetables including but not limited to romaine and red leaf lettuces, cabbage, collard greens and bell peppers.

Below is a video of juvenile green sea turtles feeding from PVC feeders made especially to hold vegetation and sink to the bottom of the tank. This allows the turtles to feed as they would in the wild. Enjoy...

For our loggerheads and larger Kemp's ridleys, a part of their natural diet is hard shelled prey. To give them a hunting opportunity, we offer them live blue crabs. We clip the crab's claws to prevent any unnecessary injury to the turtles, but interestingly enough, most of the turtles disarm the crabs first anyways! The more "skilled" hunters remove both of the claws before moving on to the rest of the crab. Some of our turtles aren't that patient though, and just dig right in! It gets interesting when a blue crab hides under or near the rear end of our turtles to prevent being discovered. It's usually a short lived disguise. Occasionally once the chase is on, a blue crab will sneak through a pipe cuff....and from there on out the hospital staff gets a good laugh as the turtle swims around with the pipe cuff on it's head, convinced that's where the crab went! Check out our video below of Little Pritchard's short lived chase of a live blue crab!

Little Debbie, a large juvenile Kemp's ridley, is known for an entertaining crab chase. Follow this link for great footage of Little Debbie in action!

All of our live blue crabs are brought in by donation. Big shout out to our regular suppliers that help us feed crabs to the sea turtles year round: Terry Heinz - long time SCA volunteer and a dedicated crab supplier (pictured below), Bill Thorsby, Wilby Halsapple, Jim and the kids, Ernie, and Rachel Brennan - the turtles thank you!

We hope you're enjoying our enrichment blog series. Check back tomorrow for another blog, you won't want to miss out!

Megan and Kelly

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Because sea turtles can't surf the internet, continued...

We give several types of food enrichment and the one featured here is the fish pop. Fish pops are our take on a popsicle! Only the turtles don’t get a choice between grape and cherry. They get a choice between mackerel, smelt, capelin, or herring! We take a portion of their fish diet and freeze it into an extra large popsicle. It is a riot to watch the turtles nose the floating fish pop around the tank trying to get their mouths around it. The fish pop melts over time giving the turtles a tasty reward for their efforts. This type of enrichment breaks up the normal feeding routine while providing their daily allotment of food.

Enjoy the video of Santee with her fish pop!

Be sure to check in tomorrow to learn about two additional types of food enrichment!

Megan and Kelly

Because sea turtles can't surf the internet...

When you think of a rehabilitation facility, the physical health probably comes to mind. And rightly so, the patients wouldn’t be here unless they were injured in some way. However, less thought about in a rehabilitation setting is the animal’s mental health. At the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program, we also take the animal’s mental health into consideration with environmental enrichment.

Environmental enrichment aims to enhance animal activity and provide mental stimulation, adding interesting and complex activities to the animals’ daily routine. While sea turtles are not known for their intelligence, we would like to keep their brains healthy for when they do make their return to the wild. However, what humans would use to keep themselves occupied would be highly inappropriate for our sea turtles – they can’t text their friends, read a book, or work a crossword puzzle. So we came up with a few things the turtles do like.

If you’ve ever visited the hospital (and if you haven’t, I highly suggest you do!), you’ve probably wondered and maybe even asked what the PVC pipe cuffs in the bottom of their tanks are used for. It’s an amazing phenomenon and we are all still amused by it. As you will see in the photos below, the turtles use the pipe cuffs when they sleep! In the wild, sea turtles often sleep under ledges or coral reefs away from sharks, one of their few natural predators. In the Sea Turtle Hospital, they sleep with their heads buried inside the pipes. It’s like their personal security blanket during their stay at the hospital. It takes some longer than others to catch on, but by now almost all of our new cold stunned turtles are using them.

And then there is Lewbart, one of the little NC cold stunned green sea turtles, who has to be different than all the others. This little guy insists on using the pipe cuff for a back scratcher. The photo below shows Lewbart after he worked the pipe onto his back. Next is the video of how hard he works to get it there!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's enrichment blog...

Megan Walsh, Sea Turtle Rescue Intern and Kelly Thorvalson, Sea Turtle Rescue Manager

Monday, February 14, 2011

Frosty makes great progress!

Frosty was one of the most severe of the cold stunned sea turtles admitted by the Sea Turtle Rescue Program this winter. On December 15, the small green sea turtle was rescued from the beach on Hilton Head Island after a night of temperatures well below freezing.

Supportive care was given and the turtle was warmed slowly. The prognosis was very poor but each morning, hospital staff would return to work to find the turtle hanging on to life. Within days, the tips of Frosty's front left flipper turned white. Frostbite is an injury caused by the freezing of skin and tissues and as seen in Frosty’s case, normally affects distal extremities.

Debridement or surgery to remove necrosing tissue could result in damage to healthy tissue so the wound was allowed to take its course. The photos below show the process. During this time, the turtle was receiving two antibiotics, fluid and vitamin therapy, as well as pain medication.

The next image is a striking comparison of the flipper from photographs taken on January 5 and February 9. During this time, Frosty's appetite and behavior have improved drastically. Bloodwork has improved, as well. Great progress!

Stay tuned for a video of Frosty in a blog series on sea turtle enrichment that will start this week. In fact, intern, Megan Walsh and I will be bringing you several videos of sea turtles in our hospital that you won't want to miss!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cathedral Academy kids arrive with get well cards and gifts

For a few minutes on Friday morning, it felt like a normal hospital where visitors bring cards and flowers to make ailing loved ones feel better. But this time, the cards and gifts were for the sick and injured sea turtles at the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

Cathedral Academy students, parents and teachers, visited the Sea Turtle Hospital armed with beautiful, homemade, get well cards and much needed hospital supplies such as trash bags, sponges and dish soap.
It was obvious that a great deal of time, effort and love went into each and every card. The covers were sparkling and creative, and inside contained personal messages and poems to the patients. Each child was thrilled to meet the turtle whose card he or she had worked so hard to create. It was a wonderful tour with kids very excited about helping sea turtles.

Thank you, Cathedral Academy!
Kelly Thorvalson