What an interesting season we have had so far in our turtle rehabilitation programme!
The 2020 stranding season started pretty quickly, with March seeing the arrival of 24 rescued turtles, adding to the four that we had already received in February. Interestingly, 18 of these turtles came from Struisbaai - a real hotspot when it comes to turtle strandings.
A super-exciting development was that two of these little turtles were leatherback hatchlings, which are more rare in our waters than loggerheads. Unfortunately one did not make it, but the other one successfully spent a few weeks with us, swimming around and eating jellyfish before being released back into the Agulhas Current - definitely a cool little pitstop for this curious creature!
Unfortunately, the nature of turtle rescue and rehabilitation work is that quite a few of the animals we receive are so compromised by the time they reach us, that they don’t make it - this is where we see quite a few mortalities. Sadly, three of the turtles received were dead on arrival, and another four passed away within the first few days of arriving with us. Despite our best efforts, there is only so much that can be done to bring a little turtle back from the brink.
Despite these losses, we always try to learn as much as possible from these turtles and, indeed, our postmortem examinations revealed that four of these seven turtles had eaten substantial amounts of microplastic particles while at sea.
When loggerhead turtles hatch they generally only weigh about 18g. Many of them arrive in our rehab a few months later weighing not much more than this, having had to exert a great deal of energy and having then tried to replenish it by finding food to eat in the current. When we autopsy these babies we often find that the “food” they have eaten for energy and nourishment has indeed been plastic. What a strong message these turtles are conveying to us about the state of the oceans!
We've had a few special little turtles thus far, with personalities significantly larger than their size:
Little #2, Nibbles, came in weighing a tiny 30g and had bite marks and bits missing from all of his* flippers! For this reason, diving is much harder for him than his full-flippered friends and so we make sure to have extra-special time with him when we feed him by hand every day. Little Nibbles gets so excited that he often tries to nibble at the food still outside his tank. (*It's impossible to determine the sex of a hatchling, so we give them arbitrary pronouns to make it easier to talk about them. A turtle's sex only becomes defined when they are several years old.)
#9 is a small turtle that was rescued by a family in Hermanus - the youngest members of the family had heard our turtle presentation at their school a few days before when they were visited by the Turtle Road Trip - which reached over 10 000 kids! It wasn’t long before they were able to use their new "Turtle Rescuer" title to help us with the rescue of this little 43g turtle. #9 is one our strongest turtles, doing his laps every day and working hard on his breath-holding. He is definitely a confident and charismatic personality.
#26 is also such a little sweetie pie, with quite a large wound on the underside of his back flipper. He is one of the smallest (came in weighing 20g) and bravest babies we have at the moment. Due to his wound, we need to treat little #26 every day, but want to do it in the least stressful way possible. So we package him up gently like a little burrito, allowing his treatment to sit on his injury, but still keeping him comfortable.
The lockdown has affected us humans in many extreme ways, and most notably regarding turtles, we are sobered by the fact that many turtles won’t be rescued due to the lack of rescuers patrolling beaches over this time. Fortunately, we know that the wonderful teams from SANParks, CapeNature, and local municipalities and law enforcement will be keeping an eye out and assisting with rescues wherever possible.
However, life for the turtles in our rehab is very much the same as it has always been. These are the original "social distancers" and "self-isolators" and wearing gloves/sterilising our hands constantly is pretty normal activity for us in quarantine.
Annie and Bob are doing well in our I&J Ocean Exhibit, the routine for them is much the same, but I think they miss looking out and seeing excited and awe-inspired faces every day.
So let's plod along, take just one day at a time and get way too excited about food - just like a turtle.
Support sea turtle rehabilitation efforts
Inspired by the incredible survival stories of turtles like Bob, and amazing successful rehabilitation and releases stories like that of Yoshi, we've redoubled our turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts. This has culminated in a fully-fledged Turtle Rescue Programme within the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, the non-profit, public benefit partner of the Two Oceans Aquarium. This programme successfully rehabilitates and releases hundreds of endangered sea turtles each year, and works closely with communities and through integrated educational programmes to instil a sense of pride and protection of the ocean in tens of thousands of children yearly.
It costs about R27 per day to rehabilitate the average turtle – but few of them are “average”. From 25g hatchlings to 80kg heavyweights, dehydration to broken shells and picky eaters to energetic rascals, it takes a passionate and dedicated team to provide each turtle with the individual care and treatment it needs.