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Kai's new bling!

By Laura du Toit
- Turtles, Foundation, Conservation, Blog
Kai's new bling!

Kai, a juvenile loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), is one of the turtles undergoing rehabilitation in the I&J Ocean Exhibit. Turtle fans may recognise him for his beautiful eyes and striking colouration! He’s also known to be a bit shyer than the other turtles and spends a lot of time in his cave at the far end of the I&J Ocean Exhibit.

Kai has had quite a long rehabilitation journey with our Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre. He was rescued and arrived at our Turtle Conservation Centre as a hatchling in October 2020. When he arrived, Kai weighed about 100g and was roughly palm-sized. Now, he weighs around 30kg!

Kai shortly after his arrival in 2020
Kai in June 2023

On arrival, our turtle team immediately noticed that Kai was extremely buoyant on his right side – to the point where he was almost vertical in the water! Our veterinary team utilised diagnostic imaging such as X-ray, CT, and MRI scans to uncover the source of his issues. The team discovered that Kai had disproportionate lung lobes and a severe infection in his left lung. 

Our turtle vet performed bronchoalveolar lavage to gauge how to treat the infection. This means that a bronchoscope (medical instrument) is passed into the lung airway, with a measured amount of saline solution, to collect a fluid sample for testing. With time, care, and space, Kai recovered. However, his left lung remained significantly smaller than the right, causing him to be unbalanced and stressed.

To even Kai out, the turtle team fashioned ballast weights out of steel putty to place on his shell. During this time, Kai received pulmonary physiotherapy and was given swimming exercises to promote his fitness. These initial efforts were successful, and Kai was introduced to the I&J Ocean Exhibit for the first time in March 2023. 

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One of Kai's first weights as a hatchling.
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Another version of Kai's weight.

Unfortunately, Kai's buoyancy has recently become unstable again. 

The team decided to add some weights to his right side to balance him out. Isay Acenas of OceanHub Africa was enlisted to help in the process. OceanHub Africa, one of the Turtle Conservation Centre's partners, is an ocean-impact catalyst that strives to inspire, support, and connect various individuals and stakeholders to accelerate the development and adoption of sustainable ocean solutions in Africa.

While steel putty worked well when Kai was younger, the turtle team used a different approach for the most recent weighting method. Using epoxy and anchor points, the team fixed a small, upcycled scuba weight to Kai's shell. The weight is easily adjustable to reduce handling and stress.

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The difference between Kai's left (much flatter) and right (more rounded) sides of the shell.
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Kai's new bling!

Over the next few weeks, the Turtle Conservation Centre team will monitor Kai, his swimming patterns, and how his buoyancy is affected by the added weight. With the extra weight on the right side, Kai’s right lung won’t need to compensate for the left one, allowing both time to stabilise. 

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Our turtle team will fine-tune his added weights as needed. If you’re a regular visitor to the I&J Ocean Exhibit, you may notice changes in his added weight over the next few months. In the meantime, we hope that Kai will build up his strength and, eventually, balance himself out without any additional help.

This is the next step in Kai’s rehabilitation, and necessary for him to grow stronger! We hope his turtle friends, Nobomvu and Bheni, aren’t too jealous of Kai's new bling!

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