Rescued sea turtles get TLC at Bass Pro's Wonders of Wildlife
Izzy and Ms. Pam are ambassadors at Bass Pro’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. Izzy was found floating awkwardly along the surface of the water off the coast of North Carolina. Ms. Pam was found during a red tide event, which is a term used when harmful algae bloom, in a harbor near Sarasota, Florida.
Mike Daniel, general curator for the aquarium, said both turtles had injuries that made them unreleasable.
Izzy had a fracture at the base of her skull and multiple irregular air pockets in her carapace, or shell.
“She had some sort of severe physical trauma,” Daniel said. “That could have been something like a boat strike or something like that.”
When first rescued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Izzy was quite small, weighing only about eight pounds. She came to the aquarium in 2017 and weighed around 12 pounds. Now, she’s at 40 pounds, Daniel said.
“She’s growing at a fantastic rate and doing well,” Daniel said.
When found, Ms. Pam was at an unnatural angle with her backside much higher than her front and struggling to raise her head high enough to breathe. Her left lung had suffered trauma, and there was damage to her left front and rear flippers.
Rehabilitators hoped to release Ms. Pam, but as they increased the depth of tanks she was placed in, they noticed her buoyancy was off.
“She has two weights that are actually attached to the back of her shell,” Daniel said. “So, when she swims, her little bottom sinks down, and she gets to have that much more natural orientation.”
The weights are attached using epoxy and, as she sheds scutes, the plates on her shell, the weights are replaced, Daniel said.
“It’s likely that she’ll have to have weights on the back of her carapace for her entire life,” Daniel said.
The creatures at the aquarium eat human-grade food, and caretakers work with their veterinarian team to set up the best diet for each animal, Daniel said. For the sea turtles, their diet consists of produce like leafy lettuce, cucumbers, bell peppers and butternut squash with squid and shrimp for protein. The sea turtles occasionally have to have supplements, which means hiding pills in shellfish, Daniel said.
At least one sea turtle loves their bell peppers. The other, not so much. It’s up to the care team members, like Lead Aquarist Kyle Detloff, to find those nuances.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how particular and individualistic so many animals are in how they accept food, what they like and don’t like,” Daniel said. “It’s just like us with our preferences.”
It’s hard to estimate just how old the sea turtles are. In the wild, their life spans can stretch to 70 years. In captivity, it may even be longer, Daniel said.
There are seven species of sea turtles, and six are endangered, Daniel said.
Departments like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put in “herculean” efforts in rescuing and caring for sea turtles, Daniel said. They partner with facilities like Wonders of Wildlife to help the sea turtles who would otherwise die if released.
“Without assistance like this and people becoming more knowledgeable and caring, the story of sea turtles will continue to decline,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he hopes guests at Wonders of Wildlife will be inspired by Izzy and Ms. Pam’s story and to find a new passion to care for and recognize how their actions can affect creatures in the wild.
“Turtles are an incredibly curious animal,” Daniel said. “One of the only ways they can really explore is to feel something with their mouth, and so when that piece of trash (is) floating and they ingest it, then that can be life-threatening to that animal.”
Properly disposing of trash and picking up litter are small, but lasting steps.
“Sometimes, in landlocked Missouri, we forget that the decisions we all make have an impact on the oceans and planet as a whole,” said Shelby Stephenson, Wonders of Wildlife spokeswoman. “Each of our decisions can impact sea turtles. Maybe not today. Maybe that trash you threw off your boat won’t reach a sea turtle today, but it might reach them in a few years.
“All water leads to the ocean.”
Wonders of Wildlife has launched a program called Adopt an Animal, where recipients will receive a plush of a sea turtle, adoption certificate and more with their purchase. Visit https://wondersofwildlife.org/adopt-an-animal/ to learn more.
Wonders of Wildlife is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.