Sea turtles find a new chance for life at Wonders of Wildlife
Another batch of loggerhead sea turtles find home for rehabilitation at Wonders of Wildlife’s Sea Turtle Center
For the second consecutive year, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium (WOW) is hosting a group of loggerhead sea turtles facing life-threatening conditions on their home waters.
But there’s nothing commonplace or ordinary about the feeling for the caretakers at WOW’s Sea Turtle Rescue Center. The sense of excitement and responsibility is as high now as it has ever been.
“Having the chance to welcome a second round of sea turtles to WOW is immensely rewarding,” said Mike Daniel, General Curator at Wonders of Wildlife. “These animals are threatened and endangered all over the world, and to be able to provide this expert animal care and return them to the wild successfully, demonstrates our team’s experience and dedication to conservation.”
This group of eight loggerhead sea turtles were stranded in the Cape Cod area in the waters off Massachusetts. They were victims of the annual rite of “cold stunning,” when dropping water temperatures leads to hypothermia-like conditions in marine reptiles. That leaves them vulnerable to predators and unable to secure food and fend for themselves.
These sea turtles were lethargic and malnourished, with at least two of them stricken with pneumonia.
Enter Wonders of Wildlife and the Sea Turtle Center.
The sea turtles were flown to Springfield on a private aircraft provided by the nonprofit organization Turtles Fly Too and arrived in early January after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife approved WOW to receive, host and rehabilitate them.
This is another chapter in Johnny Morris’ lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation, facilitated by a passionate team at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, the Johnny Morris Conservation Foundation and Wonders of Wildlife.
“These animals are keystone species and influence the lives of countless other animals that share their ecosystem,” Daniel said. “Helping these amazing animals demonstrates the mission of WOW in action to promote conservation, provide education and to promote the long-term health of our precious natural resources.”
SHOWING COMMITMENT TO CONSERVATION
Wonders of Wildlife has three times been voted “America’s Best Aquarium” by readers of USA Today, and its message of conservation and caring for animals of all types has spread throughout the world.
The story of WOW, its commitment to conservation and the dedication to help these sea turtles in need is not about selling tickets. These sea turtles and their rehabilitation – at the only sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release center in the Midwest – is not open for public display.
The rehabilitation work is about far more than just putting them in an aquarium and watching their body temperatures rise.
A team of aquarists works with them daily, feeding them, taking measurements and drawing blood and performing physical exams, with every step meticulously documented.
They eat about 3 percent of their body weight each day. In the wild, they prefer eating whelk, crab and other mollusks. At WOW, they eat blue crab, whelk, shrimp and some fish (mackerel, capelin and herring), with two or three feedings per day. Every bite of their food intake is documented.
WOW’s Life Sciences and Veterinary teams monitor the overall body condition of the sea turtles through periodic physical exams, which includes measurements of their shells, taking body weights and periodic blood tests.
Their overall health and progress is measured by weight gain and an increase in activity. Sea turtles are curious and feisty by nature, and an increase in activity is a positive. Once they are eating well, they will be offered live natural prey – blue crab, whelk and possibly horseshoe crabs – for feeding.
“Once they are foraging successfully for live natural prey, they are ready to return to the ocean,” Daniel said.
NAMES GIVE THEM TIES TO THE OZARKS
The first group of sea turtles were given Christmas-related names, as they arrived and spent time at WOW around the holidays.
The current group has been named for local waterways and watersheds: Nathanael Greene, Fassnight, Mizumoto, Sequiota, Galloway and Fulbright. The eighth was recently named Frisco, after a vote on WOW’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
LENGTH OF STAY IS UP TO TURTLES
The time frame for their stay at WOW is undetermined. They could stay at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center for two to three months. Last year’s batch of 12 arrived shortly after Christmas in 2020 and were returned to the waters off Panama City Beach, Fla., in April 2021. All 12 of them thrived throughout the rehabilitation process and were at full strength when released.
“The time will be up to the turtles,” Daniel said. “If they eat well and become more active, coupled with clear radiographs, we will know they are approaching the point of release.”
The team it takes to provide this care and rehabilitation is significant. Each of the daily feedings requires five or six team members to distribute the food and record the data. Following each feed, the tanks are cleaned by two Life Sciences staff members to keep the water quality at a healthy level.
Tests on the water quality, plus water changes and backwashes, are performed daily, with tests for ammonia, nitrites, pH and salinity. Veterinary staff monitors the sea turtles’ health and progress, through weight checks and X-rays. Radiographs check for the presence of pneumonia, and lungs will be examined to make sure there is no fluid buildup.
It takes a huge amount of resources to make this happen, but the payoff is worth it, seeing the sea turtles who arrived in Springfield in various states of distress return to the ocean, healthy and able to fend for themselves in their natural habitat.
“We will be sad to see them go,” Daniel said, “but it is heartwarming to know we are making such a difference in their health and lives, and advancing WOW’s dedication to conservation throughout the world.”