Thursday, March 29, 2012

Eclipse's First Live Crab Encounter

From what we’ve learned in the previous blog about Eclipse, the unique hybrid turtle has a lot to figure out when it comes to his diet. His head size and two prefrontal scutes are characteristic of a green sea turtle but his beak shape and lack of a serrated jaw are more in line with his maternal side, a loggerhead. Since arriving at the South Carolina Aquarium, hospital staff and volunteers have offered an array of greens to Eclipse, none of which he has been even slightly interested in eating. This past week we decided to test his loggerhead hunting skills by offering a live blue crab and were we ever surprised!

As you can see in the video, Eclipse exhibits loggerhead behavior in his enthusiasm for blue crabs. He had no problems eating the claws but getting the body in his mouth was a challenge. Only once did he get the whole crab into his mouth but didn't seem to have the jaw strength to crush the shell. So the big question is, as he grows, will he have the head size and jaw muscles to consume the hard shelled prey that he is obviously interested in eating?
Whitney Daniel
Sea Turtle Biologist

Monday, March 19, 2012

First SC live stranding admitted into Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital

A green sea turtle admitted on St. Patrick's Day - how appropriate! It was definitely this little turtle's lucky day to be rescued on Saturday evening in Cherry Grove, SC. Had recreational fisherman, Jamie Smith, not found him before darkness fell, the turtle may not have survived the night. North Myrtle Beach SCUTE members Rob and Linda responded quickly to the stranding call. Linda gave the turtle the best chance of survival by transporting it to meet Charlotte Hope from SCDNR in Georgetown for the transfer - a long drive for all involved.

Admitted into the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital about 10:30pm with a low heart rate of 24 beats per minute, high blood CO2, and a core body temperature of 67 degrees F, it is apparent that "Grover" had been in colder waters than his cold-blooded body could tolerate.

Diagnostic tests included bloodwork and x-rays. Initial treatment included fluid therapy, antibiotics, vitamins C and B, and a slow temperature acclimation, all lasting until well after midnight. Although Grover is still very lethargic, the prognosis is favorable.

Huge thanks to all involved in Grover's rescue! Be sure to keep up with his progress on the main hospital webpage.

Kelly Thorvalson
Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager

PS - The green Team Tortuga shirt I am wearing was given to me by the kids at East Cooper Montessori School that are raising funds for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program as their Peace Project. It was only fitting to wear it on St. Patrick's Day and to honor their efforts!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A closer look at the hybrid sea turtle, "Eclipse"

At first glance, Eclipse appears to be just another feisty sea turtle in our hospital, splashing around his tank and rubbing his shell on his PVC backscratcher. But Eclipse is very unique, and you’ve likely never seen another turtle that looks just like him.

That’s because Eclipse is a rare hybrid, and he possesses an interesting combination of physical traits inherited from his parents. Although genetic analysis is still pending, it’s very apparent that this juvenile is a cross between a loggerhead and a green sea turtle. If you know even a little about the very different life histories of those two species, you’ll be apt to spend as much time as I have pondering the many choices this charismatic little turtle is going to have to make in the future!

The shape of a turtle’s head and beak are indicative of its diet. For example, the loggerhead turtle is known for its large, wide head and massive beak. This combination of a robust beak, which contains cutting and crushing plates, and a large skull, which houses a mass of muscle, enable the loggerhead to easily crush the shells of crabs and mollusks. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the green sea turtle, who is equipped with a small head and beak with a serrated edge. This serrated beak is perfect for tearing and consuming sea grass and algae, staples of the greens’ diet.

Take a look at Eclipse’s head and beak in the picture below. Like a green, his head is small and he has only two scutes (or scales) between the eyes. However, his coloration and beak, which lacks a serrated edge, closely resemble a loggerhead’s. Will he have enough muscle strength in his small skull to eat crabs? Or will he be able to consume sea grass efficiently without a serrated beak?

Sea turtles are often identified in part based on the number of scutes (individual scales or sections) on their carapace (shell). In this aspect, Eclipse also appears to be half green turtle and half loggerhead. On his left side, Eclipse has just four scutes like a green. However, his right side has five scutes, just like a loggerhead. The shape and coloration of his shell more closely resemble a loggerhead’s as well, as he lacks the beautiful marbleized patterns and rounder shape characteristic of green sea turtles.

Regardless of his genetic heritage, Eclipse is thriving in our hospital and has almost fully recovered from being cold-stunned in Massachusetts last November, first receiving treatment at the New England Aquarium. Although he’s not a fan of the romaine lettuce we offer him, a treat which green turtles love to munch on, he chows down on a healthy assortment of restaurant quality fishes like smelt, mackerel, and capelin. Come visit Eclipse in our hospital and learn more about what makes him unique!

Christi Hughes
Sea Turtle Biologist

Monday, March 5, 2012

Help Montessori students and Cinebarre support sea turtle conservation

Students from East Cooper Montessori Charter School are inviting the public to the Cinebarre in Mount Pleasant this Thursday, March 8th to watch a wonderful film about sea turtles for only $5! Not only will you learn more about these ancient creatures, but you’ll be helping raise money for sick and injured sea turtles that strand along the SC coast. Thanks to the generosity of Cinebarre, all proceeds from ticket sales will go towards rehabilitating sea turtles at the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program, a non-profit organization with no state or federal funding. Folks are encouraged to come out at 4pm to meet Team Tortuga, the group of students working so hard to save sea turtles, visit informational tables about turtle rescue and nest protection, and order delicious food from Cinebarre before the movie starts at 4:30pm.

This is just one of several events planned by Team Tortuga for their Peace Project, a year-long project implemented by the school that teaches students to give back to their community. The kids have three primary goals for this project: 1) to raise awareness about the environmental pressures sea turtles face, 2) to teach basic conservation tips, and 3)  raise $1000 for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program, allowing the students to become the highest level of Stranded Turtle Adoptive Parents. Among other things, this adoption will allow a class of 30 to tour the South Carolina Aquarium and Sea Turtle Hospital, receive regular updates on new patients and sea turtle releases, and have a rescue program staff member give a presentation at the school.

Huge thanks to East Cooper Montessori Charter School, Team Tortuga, the Cinebarre movie theater, and all who come out to support these kids’ efforts!  

Kelly Thorvalson