The Monterey Bay Aquarium recently acquired 10 juvenile green sea turtles, which are now happily settled in our special exhibition, Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea.
The turtles were part of a “clutch” of 82 born at SeaWorld San Diego in October 2009. Sea turtles bury eggs under the cover of darkness, and aquarists at Sea World were astonished to find the hatchlings when they arrived at work one morning. “They didn’t know they had a nest,” says Monterey Bay Aquarium Senior Aquarist Veronica Franklin. “They came in and found tracks across an artificial beach in the exhibit, leading into the water.”
The event was welcome news. Sea turtles face many challenges in the wild, and 40 from the clutch will join the wild population when they’re released and tracked under the auspices of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Others will serve as ambassadors, on exhibit at SeaWorld, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other institutions.
The juvenile sea turtles are roughly six inches long and weigh about two pounds. Their sexes are as yet unknown. They’re replacing two larger green sea turtles that we’ve moved behind the scenes. Those two, along with another pair of larger green sea turtles that are also housed behind the scenes, are awaiting the renovation of the million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit. Look for them when the exhibit re-opens in the summer of 2011.
What will visitors see on exhibit? While larger turtles are capable of “hauling out” and resting on rocks, these active juveniles prefer to stay in the water. “In the first years of their lives, they’re pelagic [open-ocean] animals,” says Veronica. “They eat and sleep in the water.”
One endearing trait that visitors may see: young turtles sleeping in the water with their front flippers folded up and over their heads.
Because small turtles can be “nippy,” Veronica plans to monitor them closely and see how they interact, especially for the first few weeks. “Sea turtles are usually separated in the open ocean,” she says. While a small number of turtles are on exhibit now, depending on how things go, Veronica may be adding more in the future. (The remaining turtles are currently behind the scenes.)
The turtles will be fed floating pellets twice a day, which are nutritionally designed for growing aquatic animals. Later in life, the turtles will eat more protein in the form of fish, prawns and clams. By age five they’ll be eating romaine lettuce and bell pepper, which are nutritionally like the sea grasses they eat in the wild.
Eventually, Veronica may be able to “target-train” the turtles. This involves using a long plastic pole with a colored float on the end and placing it in the water. Each turtle learns to associate a specific color with food.
The “Lost Years”
With help from the Aquarium’s newest additions, we may just learn a little more.