For the first time, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, welcomed a rescued and rehabilitated sea turtle to its collection of marine life. The juvenile Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta), weighing approximately 97 pounds, arrived on Nov. 19 from the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program.
“All sea turtles in U.S. waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act due to significant threats such as entanglement in fishing gear, accidental ingestion of plastic and other marine debris, boat strikes, and loss of essential nesting habitat,” said Debbie Zmarzly, interim director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps. “This turtle is an important ambassador for ocean conservation. We hope its story will help compel more than 400,000 people who visit Birch Aquarium each year to protect the health of our oceans and the animals that call it home.”
Originally discovered injured in a New Jersey power plant’s cooling canal, the Loggerhead Sea Turtle was initially sent to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ, for care. After three weeks, the South Carolina Aquarium accepted the turtle and provided treatment and further evaluation.
Due to what are likely congenital defects—including scoliosis and flipper paralysis—veterinary experts in South Carolina determined that the Loggerhead would not survive if reintroduced to the wild, so it was deemed non-releasable. South Carolina Aquarium needed to find a permanent home for the turtle and reached out to institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States
Birch Aquarium at Scripps, with its experienced husbandry team, volunteered to provide a home for the injured Loggerhead and secured the appropriate approvals from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Through a fundraising campaign, more than $50,000 was raised by Birch Aquarium to support the housing and rehabilitative care of the turtle over the next year.
“To learn more about the specific health issues and husbandry needs of this special animal, two of our aquarists traveled to the South Carolina Aquarium to collaborate with their experts,” said Jenn Nero Moffatt, director of husbandry at Birch Aquarium. “Our team also ensured safe travel to San Diego—including a layover in Atlanta—with Delta Air Lines’ Pet First service. We are so excited that the turtle is now at La Jolla’s very own Birch Aquarium at Scripps.”
The turtle is currently behind the scenes at the aquarium, undergoing routine health and husbandry assessments in preparation for its move to its new habitat in the Hall of Fishes. By mid-January 2015, visitors to the aquarium should be able to see the turtle in its new home. “This turtle has already been through so much in its short life,” said Moffatt. “We look forward to giving it a comfortable and happy home and sharing the story of not only this turtle, but all sea turtles, with San Diego’s residents and visitors.”
About Loggerhead Sea Turtles
Loggerhead Sea Turtles are one of the most widespread of all the marine turtles, found in all but the coldest waters worldwide. They are also the most highly migratory; Pacific loggerheads migrate more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. While Green Sea Turtles are more commonly spotted locally, Loggerheads have been found in the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve as well as the National Wildlife Refuge.
Loggerheads are the largest of the hard-shelled turtles, typically weighing 165-360 pounds as adults. Identifying features include large, strong jaws and head, reddish-brown carapace (top shell), and yellow plastron (bottom shell). Average lifespan is at least 50 years.
High-res images available upon request.
About Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and the western Pacific. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth, and ocean science and features five-dozen hands-on elements. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium has an annual attendance of more than 400,000, including 40,000 school children.
Location: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, Calif.