Rescued Sea Turtles find sanctuary at S.E.A. Aquarium

On 28 September 2015, a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) was handed over to S.E.A. Aquarium by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). Named “Louie” by our aquarists, it was a healthy 20-gramme hatchling found in a drain by a member of the public.

Louie Green Sea Turtle
Louie was merely one week old when it arrived at S.E.A. Aquarium. Green Sea Turtles are listed as “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

About six months later, on 24 March 2016, Louie was joined by “Hawke” – a critically endangered male Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), estimated to be between five to eight months old. Hawke was found in poor condition in the sea by another member of the public. He was believed to be an illegal pet abandoned by his owner. Due to poor nutrition and care, Hawke had developed a pyramided carapace – an irreversible shell deformity commonly found in captive turtles, in which the uneven shell growth results in a “pyramid” shape underlying each scute (bony external plate).

Hawke’s pyramided carapace was due to lack of proper nutrition and care.

Aquarists as “foster parents”

As both turtles were still very young, our team of aquarists doubled up as foster parents, providing them with extra care and attention from feeding to physical examinations. They also performed operant conditioning with positive reinforcement, such as getting the turtles to associate food with the sound of a shaker. When they hear the shaker, they will surface onto a designated platform where our aquarists can feed them, and/or to bring them out of the water for their regular health checks.

This shaker works as a personalised “PA system” for Louie. When it is time for our aquarists to feed or examine him, they will shake it in the water and Louie will usually swim over within minutes.
Aquarist Kenneth Kwan weighing Louie. This Green Sea Turtle now weighs about 12 kilogrammes, compared to just 20 grammes when he first arrived.

Diet and habitat adaptation

One of the key challenges when caring for these turtles lies in getting them to try and adapt to new types of food. For example, Louie is currently on a seafood diet comprising mainly of fish and squid. As he grows, he will be introduced to a plant-based diet instead to ensure his nutritional needs are met. This diet change will require some time for him to adapt.

Another challenge faced by our aquarists is having to condition the turtles to various habitats where they need to learn to live with other species so as to experience a more natural way of life. For over a year, we gradually moved the turtles from smaller, back-of-house areas to larger habitats. This is one reason why some of you may have seen Hawke at the Mangrove Habitat some months back before he was moved to his current home at the Shipwreck Habitat.

Hawke swimming at his previous home, the Mangrove Habitat. He currently weighs about 17 kilogrammes, a far cry from the 800-gramme baby turtle less than two years ago.

Healthy, playful and with a personality

Under the dedicated care of our aquarists, our turtles are growing healthily and have even developed their own personality. Both Hawke and Louie are curious, playful and responsive to cues. Louie  is a fast swimmer whereas Hawke can be shy at times. Check out this video to see how far they’ve come:

Right now, the turtles are still young. Hence our priority is to ensure that they continue to grow well. In the future, we may release the turtles back into the wild. However, there are many important factors to consider before releasing them, such as finding suitable wild habitats, the threat of poaching, and the turtles’ ability to survive in the wild.

Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as Threatened

There are seven species of sea turtles, namely Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Flatback. Of these, six are considered threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Worldwide, sea turtles face many threats, primarily from humans, including injuries from boat propellers, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution and poaching for eggs, meat, skin and shells.

Hawksbill Turtles have been hunted for centuries for their beautiful gold and brown shells, which are made into jewelry and other luxury items. As a result, these turtles are now listed as critically endangered. Image and information source

As consumers, we can help to reduce the exploitation of sea turtles, such as not consuming turtle meat and eggs, or purchasing items made of turtle shells.

Louie and Hawke are the first turtles to call S.E.A. Aquarium home. Remember to keep a lookout for them when you’re at our Shipwreck Habitat!

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