Commemorating World Sea Turtle Day with loggerhead sea turtle Seamore

This #TurtleTuesday is extra special because it’s also World Sea Turtle Day, a day to throw the spotlight on worldwide sea turtle science and conservation. We can’t think of a better ambassador for this day than our very own 9-month old rehab and release loggerhead sea turtle Seamore, rescued off the coast of North Carolina in 2014.

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Last October Seamore was brought to Adventure Aquarium for 12-18 months of head-start preparations as our biologists provide nrichment and exercises meant to prepare Seamore for life in the “big blue” once he’s returned to the Atlantic Oceans in a little over a year.

Seamore as a tiny hatchling, getting ready for his journey to Adventure Aquarium

Seamore as a tiny hatchling, getting ready for his journey to Adventure Aquarium

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), of the 7 species of sea turtles, 6 are found in U.S. waters. All sea turtles occurring in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 10 populations are endangered and 6 populations are threatened.

Rescued off the coast of North Carolina, Seamore is prepped to his transfer to Adventure Aquarium in October 2014.

From Seamore’s archives! Prepped for his transfer in October 2014.

As a result, many conservation strategies are currently being implemented in an effort to help save sea turtles from extinction. In November 2012, Adventure Aquarium began participating in a sea turtle conservation and tracking project ran by North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. This conservation program allows sea turtle hatchlings to get a head start at aquariums where they are closely monitored and grow in a safe environment for eventual release into the ocean.

Aquarium Insider fans may recall last month’s update where we shared some of the outside-the-box enrichment biologists are providing to Seamore to keep him stimulated and ready for his eventual release. Biologist Dave Lestino is happy to report that Seamore is continuing to do well with his enrichment; slowly getting used his back scratcher and continuing to show interest in his wiffleball and grazer. And of course, he’s not just expanding his mind, he’s also maintaining a steady, healthy weight gain on his diet of 40 grams a day (food favorite: mastigias jellyfish treats) He’s now up to 1090 grams – nearly 2.5 pounds!

Check out Seamore in action on exhibit!

Curious what you can do to help sea turtles like Seamore? U.S. Fish & Wildlife offers these tips:

  • Minimize beachfront lighting during the sea turtle nesting season by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights away from the beach.
  • Close blinds and draperies in oceanfront rooms at night to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach.
  • Remove recreational equipment, such as lounge chairs, cabanas, umbrellas, and boats, from the beach at night. These items can deter nesting attempts and prevent hatchlings from reaching the ocean.
  • Do not to construct beach campfires during nesting season. Sea turtle hatchlings are attracted to the light and may crawl into fires and die.
  • Use your natural vision and moonlight when walking on the beach at night.
  • If you encounter a turtle on the beach at night, remain quiet, still and at a distance. Flash photography and human disturbance may prevent her from nesting successfully.
  • Leave the tracks left by turtles undisturbed. Researchers use the tracks to identify the species of turtle that nested and to find and mark the nests for protection.
  • If you encounter a sea turtle nest or hatchlings, leave the eggs and baby turtles alone.
  • Properly dispose of your garbage. Turtles may mistake plastic bags, styrofoam, and trash floating in the water as food and die when this trash blocks their intestines.
  • Celebrate events without the use of helium balloon releases. Like plastic trash, balloons end up in the ocean, especially when released near the coast. Sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die.
  • Avoid trampling beach vegetation. Use boardwalks when available instead of walking over dunes. Natural vegetation stabilizes sand and reduces beach erosion.
  • When boating, stay alert and avoid sea turtles. Propeller and collision impacts from boats and ships can result in injury and death of sea turtles. Also, stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage.
  • Avoid anchoring boats in seagrass beds and coral reefs which serve as important feeding and resting habitats for sea turtles.
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Creative enrichment for rehab & release loggerhead sea turtle hatchling Seamore

This is part of a series of ongoing updates related to loggerhead sea turtle hatchling Seamore, rescued off North Carolina in 2014. A rehab and release animal, Seamore will be returned back to the Atlantic Ocean in 12-18 months after getting a head-start at Adventure Aquarium.

By: Dave Lestino

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Since we last checked on him, little loggerhead sea turtle hatchling Seamore has been adjusting well to life inside his new temporary home in our Caribbean Currents exhibit!

He now weighs over 610 grams (a little under a pound and a half). Compare that to his original weigh in of 76 grams when he arrived at Adventure Aquarium in November. That’s a growth of over 800% – 8x as large! He’s been growing about 40-50 grams a week, helped along by our Fish & Invertebrates team that feed him 4% of his body weight – a typical amount for a growing sea turtle.

In order to prepare Seamore for his eventual re-release into the ocean, our team provides him various forms of enrichment. Environmental enrichment is used in sea turtle rehabilitation to stimulate hunting and foraging as well to stimulate curiosity.  Combined, the purpose is to reduce resting and patterned swimming behaviors and increase focused behavior and activity.

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Most recently, we’ve been using food in a floating whiffle ball, lettuce or broccoli in a sinking PVC grazer, a PVC mesh feed mat with lettuce, ice blocks with frozen food, water bottles with holes that allow them to sink to the bottom, and of course – mastigias jellyfish treats.

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Of these Seamore’s favorites are the ice blocks and PVC grazer.  He has not shown much interest in the whiffle ball, and is usually aggressive towards it as opposed to trying to remove the food from the ball!

Watch Seamore in action here:

Stay tuned for more updates, including some one-of-a-kind creative enrichment techniques to keep Seamore stimulated. In the meantime, plan a visit to meet him in person inside our Caribbean Currents exhibit near Ocean Realm in Zone A.

 

Loggerhead sea turtle Ozzy makes his first swims inside Ocean Realm!

Biologist Sarah Stafford updates us on the efforts biologists are taking to prepare this very special turtle for his new life inside Adventure Aquarium’s Ocean Realm exhibit. 

By: Sarah Stafford, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates

My name is Sarah and I am a biologist at Adventure Aquarium. I’m also the primary care giver for loggerhead sea turtle Ozzy, who has been at Adventure Aquarium since November 9, 2012. Ozzy was deemed non-releasable by U.S. Fish and Wildlife because he has limited control of his rear flippers and he has had multiple lung infections which has resulted in a decreased lung capacity that has caused him to be slightly negatively buoyant. We received Ozzy from the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, which has a rescue and rehab sea turtle program at their aquarium.

Ozzy in 2012

Ozzy, when he first arrived at Adventure Aquarium

When he first arrived at Adventure Aquarium, he weighed in at 5 pounds and was only 10 inches long. Presently, he weighs 55 pounds and is 60 inches long!  And while we don’t know Ozzy’s gender yet, as his name suggests, we refer to him as a male turtle. Ozzy was on exhibit while he was small, but for the last few months he has been living behind-the scenes in one of our large holding systems.  While behind-the-scenes, Ozzy was receiving medical treatments and learning how to swim in deeper water environments.

Ozzy, up close! A bigger, stronger turtle today.

Ozzy, up close! A bigger, stronger turtle today.

Today, Ozzy is currently living in our Ocean Realm acclimation area connected to the larger exhibit that guests see during a visit. He’s healthy enough to go on some excursions out into the 760,000 gallon exhibit and on March 12 we was his very first try. Ozzy did great!  He’s still a little guy compared to our other loggerhead, Bob, so our Fish & Invertebrates team dived with Ozzy just in case Bob got a little too curious.

Ozzy with our other, larger loggerhead sea turtle Bob

Ozzy with our other, larger loggerhead sea turtle Bob

Like I mentioned, he is a lot smaller than the other sea turtles so he can’t be out by himself just yet. The other concern with Ozzy was if he would be strong enough to make it to the surface for a breath of air since Ocean Realm is our deepest exhibit at 25 ft. Ozzy’s buoyancy issues were a concern for the team and we needed to make sure he would not have any trouble getting up in the water column.

Learning how to navigate inside Ocean Realm, with the help of Adventure Aquarium biologists

Learning how to navigate inside Ocean Realm, with the help of Adventure Aquarium biologists

During our first dive we had to nudge him a little to get him to swim up to the surface.  He made it to the top with only a little difficulty.  Then during his second dive, he made it three times to the surface by himself and even one from the abyss, the deepest part of Ocean Realm!  We are continuing his Ocean Realm swims weekly and monitoring what places we will need to adjust and make “Ozzy friendly.” Stay tuned for ongoing updates and to learn more about when you can see Ozzy during your next visit.

Watch the full video of Ozzy’s first swims inside Ocean Realm:

A Head Start for Tortuga, Adventure Aquarium’s Rehab and Release Loggerhead Sea Turtle

By: Alicia Longo, Biologist II – Fish & Invertebrates

Sea turtle conservation is a very important issue in marine science. All seven species of sea turtles living in the oceans are classified as threatened or endangered in the wild, primarily due to human activity. As a result, many conservation strategies are currently being implemented in an effort to help save sea turtles from extinction. In November 2012, Adventure Aquarium began participating in a sea turtle conservation and tracking project ran by North Carolina Aquarium with the acquisition of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle hatchling our guests named “Tortuga.” This conservation program allows sea turtle hatchlings to get a head start at aquariums where they are closely monitored and grow in a safe environment for eventual release into the ocean.

A then, 3-month old Tortuga!

 Tortuga at 3 months old

If you’ve visited recently or have been tracking Tortuga’s progress, it may be no surprise how much he has grown! When he first arrived at Adventure Aquarium, he weighed only 129 grams. I remember how small he was, and how interested he was to investigate everything with his mouth. At his last weigh-in, Tortuga weighed 7800 grams, which is over 17 pounds!

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Tortuga now – officially a “yearling”

I have been working with Tortuga since his arrival in 2012. Being a Rehab and Release sea turtle, I limit human interaction with him, such as frequent handling or hand-feeding. This prevents him from getting used to or dependent on humans. Instead, Tortuga is handled only when being weighed and measured or being transported.

Alicia measures Tortuga's carapace

Alicia measures Tortuga’s carapace

I have also introduced many forms of enrichment that provide challenging methods of providing Tortuga’s daily diet. Allowing Tortuga to use foraging skills to “find” his food ensures that once released, he will be successful in foraging on his own. If you’ve visited Tortuga, or have been following his blog updates, you may have seen these enrichment items!

Tortuga's recent enrichment includes learning to hunt and forage, using a whiffle ball stuffed with food.

Tortuga’s recent enrichment includes learning to hunt and forage, using a whiffle ball stuffed with food.

The newest form of enrichment that has proven to be very successful is a “feed mat,” a large sinking PVC-square with screening mainly used to hold lots of greens for benthic, or bottom, foraging. This simulates foraging on vegetation he may find in seagrass beds. The feed mat has also been adapted to hold fish, shrimp, and a vitamin-supplemented omnivore gel.

Tortuga explores his sea grass mat enrichment

Tortuga explores his seagrass mat enrichment

And watch him in action:

Another new form of enrichment that Tortuga has been enjoying is blue claw crab. When he was younger, I would provide small portions of claws, but now that he is a yearling, I’ve begun offering whole crabs! He absolutely loves these, devouring every piece. This is very encouraging that he will be successful at foraging on benthic crustaceans and shelled-mollusks once released. The crabs Tortuga currently receives in his diet are not live, however the closer he gets to being released, more live food items will be offered to provide even better foraging skills.

Watch Tortuga tear into a blue crab!

Have you gone to visit Tortuga’s exhibit, but found he wasn’t there? Over the last few weeks, our team has been slowly introducing Tortuga into Rainbow Reef, a large exhibit in Zone A. Tortuga has grown so well that we must keep up with him! A larger space for Tortuga will allow more room to explore and provide lots of mental stimulation, as Rainbow Reef is very dynamic with many Caribbean fishes and creates an environment similar to what he will encounter when visiting coral reefs in the ocean. He has done very well in the new exhibit, and we hope to move him permanently into Rainbow Reef in the near future, where he will remain until his release later this year.

Exploring  his new home in Rainbow Reef

Exploring his new home in Rainbow Reef

Tortuga’s release is currently set for late September/early October 2014 and will take place back at North Carolina Aquarium where he first entered the program. Prior to release, he will have a satellite monitoring device attached to his carapace, or upper shell, that will further aid in sea turtle conservation research. Every time Tortuga surfaces for a breath of air, a signal will be sent to a satellite that records his coordinates, providing migration information. Typically the tags remain attached to the carapace for about one year. Many rehabilitated sea turtles that are released are participating in satellite tagging, allowing researchers to track migration patterns of various species, as well as determine onshore nesting sites.

Adventure Aquarium hopes to continue participating in the sea turtle conservation and tracking program with North Carolina Aquarium after Tortuga’s release.

Catching up with Adventure Aquarium’s juvenile penguins

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in our newest penguin chicks: 7 month old siblings Pumpkin and Patch, and 4 month old siblings Cornelius and Saba. One look at the “crew” and you will need to do a double-take. Almost overnight they’ve gone from being tiny, fluffy chicks to nearly full-grown penguins!

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Since the weather has been warming up, they’ve been spending the majority of their time outside.  In fact, they’re almost completely integrated with the rest of the colony – a big step, since the ability to “play nice with others” is a milestone in penguin maturation.

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite - the 'red stick'

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite – the ‘red stick’

4-month old Cornelius and Saba

4-month olds Cornelius and Saba

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

"The Crew"

“The Crew” checks things out, outside

Another major milestone in behavioral training was that Pumpkin, Patch, Cornelius and Saba each took their first swims. During their swimming “lessons” a biologist goes in the water with them, guiding them and ensuring the safety of the birds.

In case you missed it, check out our video capturing the moment below:

As you would guess – the penguins LOVE swimming! And thanks to the recent bout of springlike conditions, these warm weather-loving birds have been passing the day away by swimming in the pool at Penguin Island.

Be sure to watch a live penguin feed during your next visit! Daily at 11:15 am (and 3:45 on Saturdays and Sundays), biologists feed our penguins on deck. You won’t want to miss the juveniles as they get in on the action. Chowing down capelin, herring and squid. In total, they consume 20% of their body weight in ONE sitting!

Big changes happening on Penguin Island! Cassie the penguin completes her first official molt.

Cassie7Do you recognize this penguin? Why it’s the one and only Cassie (or as you may know her by her other alias – Casanova). If she looks a tad different than the last time you saw her, it’s for good reason; because – big news – she just completed her first official molt!

A molt occurs when a bird’s feathers are pushed out and replaced by new ones, a process that occurs every year.  Unlike other bird species that shed a few feathers during the year, African Penguins actually undergo what is called a ‘catastrophic molt’, a 20 day period during which time each penguin loses all of its feathers at one time.

Before and after molt

And for 15-month old Cassie, this first molt means she says goodbye to her gray and white juvenile plumage, and hello to her new set of feathers.

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At an about 95% complete molt, Cassie still has a couple days until her feathers are totally in, but as you can see – with her new black and white colors, she officially looks like an adult penguin.

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Like fingerprints on humans or stripes on a zebra, African penguin chest patterns – including the lines and spots – are unique to each individual penguin.

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Want to spot Cassie during your visit? Ask a biologist to point her out at Penguin Island!

Exclusive photo shoot and update with penguin chicks Saba and Cornelius

Our youngest penguin chicks, Saba and Cornelius, participated in a special photo shoot yesterday with biologist (and photographer!) Jennifer Duffy.

Penguin chicks Cornelius and Saba

54-day old Saba, left and 50-day old Cornelius, right

The photos capture just how much the young chicks have grown over the last two months.  Affectionately nicknamed “Corn Dog” and “Saba the Hut” by our Birds and Mammals team, the chicks each have VERY healthy appetites. Saba, born 54 days ago, weighs in at 2.8 kg – 6 pounds, the average size of an adult penguin! 

Saba the Hut!

Saba the Hut!

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Not to be outdone, 50-day old Cornelius is gaining on his sibling, currently weighing in at 2.4 kg, or 5.29 pounds. For both penguins, this is a very normal weight gain.

Corn Dog!

Corn Dog!

Besides growing by leaps and bounds, the pair has been doing exceedingly well in their training exercises; learning to socialize with juvenile penguins Pumpkin and Patch and even being introduced to some of the adult penguins.

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And in exciting news for our guests, our Birds and Mammals team is also teaching Cornelius and Saba the art of up-close appearances; which means that they should soon be ready to make their official public debut. Stay tuned!