Enrichment and Survival Lessons with Sea Turtle Tortuga

By: Leah Ben

Tortuga Pic1

We can’t believe it’s been a little over nine months since Tortuga first arrived at Adventure Aquarium! If you haven’t heard Tortuga’s tale, he is quite a special turtle with a tremendous story of survival.

Tortuga arrived at Adventure Aquarium after volunteers from the North Carolina Aquarium found him still buried in his nest after hatching. Adventure Aquarium is serving as a temporary home for Tortuga where he is being carefully monitored by biologists until he is big enough to be re-released into the ocean. This week, Tortuga is weighing in at 2,850 grams (little over 6 pounds). His carapace (or the top part of his shell) is 265 millimeters (10 inches) wide and 295 millimeters (11 inches) in length. 

Tortuga1

Our biologists are working with Tortuga to prepare him to survive on his own after his release into the big blue. Instead of feeding him by hand, biologists simulate feeding scenarios through enrichment activities to ensure that he does not become dependent on human interaction, and will help him with foraging and predation skills/behaviors in the wild. Our turtle pal loves chasing around live food like moon jellies – a common food source (prey item) in the wild. 

Tortuga.whiffleIn addition to hunting down live food, biologists have developed several other methods to make Tortuga’s dinner time a bit of a challenge. Here are some creative methods that are used to feed Tortuga:

  • Buoys: Buoys aren’t just for boats! Buoys float at the top of Tortuga’s exhibit. They’re stuffed with greens to simulate surface grazing.
  • Popsicles: Would you ever try a meat-flavored Popsicle? Meat portions of Tortuga’s meal are frozen. This helps Tortuga with problem solving skills. Tortuga has to push the popsicle around until it partially melts so he can chow down on some protein. While you and I may stick with a cherry popsicle, Tortuga loves it!
  • PVC pipe: If you’ve seen a small PVC pipe in Tortuga’s exhibit, you may think “Gee, what’s he building in there?” The PVC pipe is actually used for feeding! It’s stuffed with greens and sinks to the bottom of Tortuga’s exhibit to resemble grazing from the ocean floor.
  • Wiffle ball: Biologists really hit a home run with this enrichment exercise! By stuffing the wiffle ball with meat, Tortuga has to push around the ball until meat falls out, or he can grab the food through the holes. Batter up! These skills teach him valuable lessons in persistence and determination, to not give up when surviving in the wild.

Tortuga2

Biologists are continuing to develop new enrichment activities to always keep him on his toes (er… I mean flippers). Tortuga will be calling Adventure Aquarium his home until next summer. Follow us on Twitter @AdventureAqua #ProjectTurtle for ongoing updates, or if you want to say hi to him in person, be sure to visit AdventureAquarium.com for ticketing information.

 

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