#4: What's Happening - Annual Sea Turtle Exams

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world; all are recognized as endangered or threatened. Six of the seven species are found in U.S. waters. Every fall hundreds of tropical and sub-tropical sea turtles end up in Northern waters along the Eastern seaboard. It is not entirely clear why this occurs, but there are two possible theories. Some scientists believe that New England provides an important foraging ground for young sea turtles, and their migration here is deliberate. Others believe small juvenile sea turtles get caught up in the Gulf Stream and their arrival here is involuntary. Either way, when water temperatures drop, many of these turtles suffer from hypothermia, and in some cases severe frost bite. The New England Aquarium's Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is a member of a stranding network that rescues these cold-stunned turtles. Our goal is to nurse them back to health and eventually release them back into the wild.

The Giant Ocean Tank offers a unique opportunity for endangered and threatened sea turtles that have been classified as non-releasable. This 200,000 gallon, 23 foot deep Caribbean reef exhibit provides sea turtles with an ideal habitat in which to live out their lives. Over the past 30 years, loggerheads, Kemp's ridleys, hawksbills, and green sea turtles have thrived in the Giant Ocean Tank. We currently have four sea turtles; two loggerheads (Carolina and Retread), one Kemp's ridley (Scute), and one green sea turtle (Myrtle).

Like all of our animals, they benefit from excellent water quality, sound nutrition and first-rate veterinary care. To ensure the good health of our turtles, we conduct medical exams every summer. This year's exams took place on Wednesday, August 6 and Thursday, August 7. Completing the annual sea turtle exams is an enormous effort, requiring the participation of many individuals from a variety of departments.

Staff biologists (the divers) from the Fishes Department collect the turtles from the exhibit and make sure everything is in place for the exams. Veterinary staff and biologists from our Animal Health Division perform all the diagnostic work, and our Educators interpret the entire procedure for our visitors. The procedure starts with the "turtle catch." Two divers enter the exhibit and gently grasp the turtle under the fore flippers. The turtle is swiftly escorted to the surface of the exhibit and placed into a large box designed specifically for sea turtle removal.

The box is then lifted out of the exhibit and into an adjoining support area with an electronic hoist. The turtle is lifted out of the box and onto a small exam table. Both loggerheads weigh well over 100 pounds, so it can take up to four individuals to accomplish this. Once the turtle is settled on the table, the veterinarians and biologists begin their work.

They begin by weighing and measuring the turtle. They carefully examine the eyes, mouth, flippers and shell, looking for any abnormalities. A blood sample is taken from a vessel on the top of the turtle's neck. The exam is concluded with an ultrasound which enables the vets to get a heart rate and determine if there is any egg development. The turtle is then placed back in the exam box, and returned to the exhibit. Staff divers monitor the animal's behavior for several hours after the exam.

Myrtle, our green turtle weighs around 550 pounds, and is too big for the exam table. Her exam is conducted in the box at the surface of the exhibit. Our loggerheads weighed in at 196 (Retread) and 152 (Carolina). Scute, our little ridley, weighs only 52 pounds. All four turtles are in good overall health, and will likely grace the Giant Ocean Tank for many years to come.




  1. Hi Sherrie,

    I love hearing about the turtles and seeing pictures of them. There used to be a turtle that slept on the bottom across from the camera. Did she/he relocate? I have not seen Myrtle for some time on the webcam, or any of the turtles for that matter. Is there a "best" time to tune in?

  2. Sherrie,
    Outstanding turtle outline for all GOT educators to go by. If you have not, will share this as well as other GOT creature features found on this blog.


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