As the winter months approach the incidence of strandings of turtles in Cape Town and surrounds increases as juvenile turtles (mainly loggerheads) are swept down from the northern coast of KwaZulu-Natal (where they hatch) in the mighty Agulhas Current and washed ashore by stormy seas. They are often in a weak condition, having been exposed to cold water and are suffering from dehydration. The Aquarium rehabilitates these turtles in preparation for their release back into the warm ocean. Talitha Noble is our turtle rehab facility coordinator.
My name is Turtle #1 and I am the first loggerhead hatchling to arrive at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2017. I’ve been at the Aquarium for three weeks now, having arrived on 17 March, and I am really enjoying my new home.
I washed up on a beach in Plettenberg Bay and was found by Tenikwa Wildlife Centre. They carefully packed me up and flew me down to Cape Town International Airport, where an Aquarium staff member fetched me.
I weighed 25g and had a carapace (shell) length of 5cm when I first arrived. I had bite marks out of both my front flippers and a few lesions and wounds on my plastron (the underside of my shell). My turtle “rehabber” took some photos of me and recorded my weight and size. I was given a good scrub before being put into my very own tank.
The tank was nice and warm; there was even a piece of sponge for me to lie on. But I was strong and didn’t need the sponge!
My favourite part of the day is when I get food, this happens in the morning and in the afternoon. At the beginning I got little pieces of pilchard, which were fatty and delicious, but now I also get little blocks of white mussel. Sometimes these fall to the bottom of the tank and I have to swim all the way down to get to them. This was difficult at first, but I have gotten much better at it.
Since being here, 10 other hatchlings have also arrived. They are all bigger than me but I think that I am the feistiest. I’ve already gained 5g and soon I will be as big as them. I know it’s important for me to become big and strong so that I can be released back into the sea and add to the wild loggerhead turtle population out there.
Until then, though, I’m looking forward to many Aquarium adventures.
Strandings of turtles in Cape Town and surrounds
The 2017 turtle stranding season has started. Please be aware and alert when you are on the beach. Please note: This advice is only valid for marine turtle strandings around the Western Cape. Should you come across a turtle elsewhere around the South African coast, please contact the local aquarium or animal rehabilitation centre.
Here is what to do if you find a turtle:
1. Remove the stranded turtle from the water
Once you have found a tiny turtle on the beach around the Cape Town coast, it needs rehabilitation. The first thing to do is to remove the turtle from the beach and place it in a dry container where it cannot drown. Keep it at room temperature to warm up slowly. These turtles are most likely suffering from hypothermia, which makes them weak; in most instances they are so weak that they cannot lift their heads. Turtles breathe air, just like us, and if a turtle cannot lift its head out of the water, it cannot breathe and will drown.
2. Call us
Call us as soon as you can on +27 (0)21 418 3823. Remember to take note of where the animal was found. It will help us if you could let us know the accurate size and species of the turtle. That way, we can prepare a specific rehabilitation tank for it, before it arrives. The turtle species most commonly found stranded around Cape Town is the loggerhead turtle. Occasionally you may find a leatherback turtle and perhaps even a slightly larger sub-adult green sea turtle.
3. How to transport turtles
Simply place the turtle in a suitably sized container that allows the turtle to breathe freely. Keep the turtle at room temperature so that it slowly warms up. Contact us immediately and get the turtle to us as quickly as possible.
Very important: At no stage should the turtle be placed in water as it could drown. The Aquarium has a team of trained aquarists who have lots of experience in caring for stranded turtles.
Other ways to help
Our turtle rehabilitation centre requires around the clock attention, specialised medical care and many extra man- and woman-hours. To help us do this life-giving work, please consider making a donation online by clicking here.