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.

Behind the scenes at Adventure Aquarium: the wonderful world of chinchilla enrichment

Cheech and chong

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Fluffy, soft and furry are not the words you would use to describe the majority of the animals at Adventure Aquarium but they do perfectly describe Cheech and Chong the chinchillas. That’s right! We have 2 chinchillas here at the Aquarium as part of our program animal collection. Many of you have probably seen them out on stage at one of our up-closes. However have you wondered what these guys do when they’re not hanging out with everyone? If so, this blog shows some of the enrichment provided to Cheech and Chong.

One important part of any animal’s life is exercise, so we provide the chinchillas with a few different things to keep them active. The chinchillas have a multi-level enclosure they can run around in, and boxes or houses provide great surfaces to jump/climb on. One of their favorites though is the wheel which they can run around in just like a hamster would.

in boxesChinchillas also like to hide so the houses and boxes provided can double as places to hide or sleep in. Another favorite hiding spot for Cheech and Chong is their plastic tube.in tube

The biologists can get creative with their enrichment items too and create more unique toys for the boys to play with. Sometimes they’ll get a hanging cardboard platform to jump to or get a box full of hay with treats inside that they have to find. As shown in the picture below Cheech and Chong got to chew apart a paper mache ball to find some treats inside. As part of the rodent family, chinchillas need items they can chew on so the paper mache and even the cardboard boxes work well for that.

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Enrichment for their minds is important too and the chinchillas were trained to do few basic behaviors to keep them thinking. Cheech and Chong were trained to voluntarily hop into the crate used to take them to the up-close area. They were also taught to station to a particular target (or symbol). After they knew how to target, both boys were trained to sit on the scale for their weekly weight checks, as Chong demonstrates below.

Thanks for checking out two of the aquarium’s furry animals and make sure to look for them at an up-close at our Irazu Falls stage our outside in Critter Courtyard during your next visit!

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

How our biologists use everyday items to strengthen the bonds of our penguin pairs

By: Jenn Hutchins, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

Hi everyone this is Cliff, one of our 24 resident African black-footed penguins.  Cliff is 26 years old and he lives at Adventure Aquarium with his mate Mouse.

Clif Penguin Enrichment

Throughout the week the keepers like giving the penguin colony different types of enrichment.  One of the main things we like to give the penguins are items of different shapes and sizes to bring back to their nests and to help show off for their mates.

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Here at the aquarium we give the penguins a variety of items to carry around such as whiffle balls, plastic chains, small children toys, and small dog toys.  In this picture Cliff has one of his favorite “toys” -a yellow plastic chain that he takes back to his nest and shows off for Mouse.

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When a penguin brings an item back to the nest both mates get really excited and put on a visual and vocal display.  They can also be seen sitting on different toys as if it is an egg.  Giving these items to the penguins is very important to stimulate breeding behavior and create a stronger bond between mates.

Clif Penguin Enrichment2

Can you stand the cuteness? Ball pit enrichment with Adventure Aquarium’s pygmy hedgehog Spike

By: Jamie Hogan

Spike, our African pygmy hedgehog, is now almost one and a half years old and having a ball at Adventure Aquarium!

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Since his introduction here about a year ago he is doing great and enjoying his weekly up-closes with the guests. When hedgehogs are scared they will curl up and hide their faces and feet with their spines for defense. Over the past year Spike has gotten much better with his up-closes and is usually very active and no longer hiding behind his spines! Another milestone is that although Spike is small, only 6-8 inches long, he is already a full grown hedgehog.

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In addition to up-closes, enrichment plays a large role in Spike’s life at the aquarium. Every day he is given a new toy or house, a treat, something new to burrow under or anything else new or different to keep him stimulated and thinking. One of the enrichments given to Spike is playtime in a ball pit. African pygmy hedgehogs are nocturnal and like to burrow under termite mounds and logs during the day to sleep, so having a ball pit to play in is a fun way to recreate that natural behavior. Another way to use Spike’s ball pit for enrichment is to place some bugs, his favorite snack, in it so he can forage for his food like his wild cousins. This also encourages natural behaviors for him. Spike enjoys all the enrichment he’s given and looks especially cute when playing in his ball pit. 

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Spike_Enrichment 4.15.142

100% adorable. Cuteness ensues during food enrichment session with porcupine Gonzo

By: Shawn Danner, BiologistGonzo Strawberry

So this prickly, little guy is Gonzo, our prehensile-tailed porcupine! He is native to South America and lives up in the thick tree cover of the rain forest. He has feet that are perfectly adapted to hold on to tree branches so he can easily move throughout the trees.

In the picture however, you can see that Gonzo has found another great use for his hands. He is able to hold onto his food while he eats it just like us. This is very useful for an animal living up in the trees. Drop that food and you’ve got a long climb down to get it!

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Enrichment is an important part of any animal’s life. Since Gonzo doesn’t get a lot of fruits in his normal diet here due to the high sugar content, we give them to him in small proportions. So when he does get fruit it is usually the first thing he eats. It would be like us making sure we ate our dessert before dinner if we didn’t get dessert too often.  And to make this dessert even better for Gonzo, that strawberry is covered in peanut butter!

As you can imagine, this was a very successful form of enrichment for our quill covered friend! Check out the full video below:

Behind-the-scenes for a sea turtle enrichment session

As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)-accredited institution, Adventure Aquarium’s husbandry team provides daily enrichment for our animals, using a variety of tools and changes meant to enhance their health and welfare.

Enrichment can take on many shapes and sizes. It can be something as simple as changing an exhibit design or features to enrich an animal’s habitat; to incorporating objects that can be manipulated by an animal in order to stimulate certain behavioral skills or increase intellectual focus.

Each animal has a specific plan and schedule that is followed rigorously by our biologists. Today we captured moments of enrichment that Biologist Liz Hann was providing our massive Loggerhead and Green sea turtles.

Turtle EnrichmentSea turtles are given enrichment on a daily basis, often incorporated into their feeding schedule. During the afternoon shark feeds in Ocean Realm, biologists throw lettuce into the exhibit. Not only does this provide a distraction (so they don’t steal the sharks’ food!), it also allows turtles Bob, Stitches and Old Green the chance to hunt and forage.

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Another essential enrichment exercise is scrubbing the turtle carapace, or shell. Liz shows how they use a hard bristle brush to remove any algae buildup.

Scrubbing Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Bob enjoys a good scrubbing.

Loggerhead Bob enjoys a good scrubbing.

Their foraging skills are put to good practice by way of an oversized gray whiffle-type ball stuffed with vegetables. The ball stays afloat on the surface, allowing the turtles to push it around as they work out the broccoli or lettuce.

Liz Hann prepares to drop the oversized 'whiffle ball' into Ocean Realm for the turtles.

Liz Hann prepares to drop the oversized ‘whiffle ball’ into Ocean Realm for the turtles.

Whiffle Ball and Green Sea Turtle

One of Loggerhead Bob’s favorite enrichment exercises is a block of ice: capelin and lettuce frozen in water infused with fish juices. Bob seems to love the ice block, pushing it around the surface and working at the lettuce as the block melts.

Bob and Ice Block

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Did you know? You can actually help biologists with enrichment exercises during our behind-the-scenes “Sea Turtles Up Close” Adventure. During this exclusive encounter, you can actually go ON DECK with our biologists to feed the turtles; even getting to scrub their shells!