The behind-the-scenes scoop on annual sea turtle physicals at Adventure Aquarium

By: Elizabeth Hann, Senior Biologist – Fish and Invertebrates

Everyone who has come to the aquarium has fallen in love with our loggerhead sea turtle, Bob, and her crew of green sea turtles, Old Green and Stitches.  I’m sure some of you have wondered, “How do we get these huge sea turtles to the doctors?”  Well today is your lucky day!  I’m going to give you the inside scoop on how we perform our yearly sea turtle physicals.

The Fish and Invertebrate team and our veterinarian staff work together to plan and coordinate yearly physicals to closely monitor the health of our sea turtles.  The first thing we think about when planning these physicals is, How are we going to get these sea turtles out of our Ocean Realm Exhibit?

Ocean Realm is designed with an acclimation area, which is a large holding area that is attached to the exhibit.  Our first step is to get them into this acclimation area.  In an ideal world, the sea turtles would swim into the area on their own; however, they typically need a little assistance. And while the physical catch and restraint of a sea turtle to bring them into this acclimation area would very stressful on them and our team, the question still stands: how do we get three monster sea turtles to willingly swim into a narrow causeway on their own free will?!  Well first things first, we start by getting them used to having the causeway door open with someone standing in there. Throw food into the mix and you have a happy sea turtle!

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Liz tosses food to green sea turtle Stitches

A week prior to physicals, I got into the causeway and fed them in front of the open causeway so they would feel comfortable. Using food items that we know the sea turtles love, we get them to follow these items into our acclimation area.  For example, we use ice blocks with greens inside as an enrichment item for Bob.

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Bob loves her ice blocks with greens!

Add a rope to that and you can guide a massive loggerhead through a narrow causeway and right into our acclimation area with no restraint from our Fish and Invertebrate team!

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Following the ice block and greens into the acclimation holding tank

We did the same with our green sea turtles using romaine lettuce.

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Old Green heads into the acclimation tank – following the lettuce!

Our next step is to get the sea turtles out of the acclimation area and onto the roof where our veterinarian staff is set up and ready to go.  The sea turtles are guided into a transport box and hoisted up to the roof.

Biologists get Bob into her hoist.

The hoist takes loggerhead Bob from the acclimation tank to the top where the biologists and veterinary team are waiting to give her the annual physical.


Riding in the hoist

Now the physicals can begin.   Our veterinarian, Dr. Michael Hyatt, starts with visually checking their physical appearance, body condition, and draws blood.

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Dr. Hyatt checks out Bob’s carapace


Each sea turtle’s body and physical appearance get checked out by our veterinary team

We conclude the physical by getting length and width measurements of their carapace and a weight.

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The sea turtles are then weighed. Three healthy, heavy sea turtles!

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Checking the width of Bob’s carapace


The sea turtles’ carapaces are measured to check annual growth.

Our physicals were a success this year and we have three heavy, healthy sea turtles.  If you want to get more involved with our sea turtles, Adventure Aquarium offers a Sea Turtle Up-Close Adventure where you actually can participate with our feeding and enrichment! You can find out more details on our website.

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