Animal News Desk / Cathy Kangas
An important mission of Mystic Aquarium is saving threatened or endangered species such as the loggerhead sea turtle, which is protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Mystic Aquarium is part of a sea turtle conservation program for loggerhead sea turtles run by the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Mystic Aquarium was joined recently by other aquariums from around the country to release sea turtles back into the ocean.
Mystic Aquarium released Emerald, a year-old loggerhead, which the aquarium had cared for since it was a hatchling. Releasing Emerald and other loggerheads into the ocean helps the population and is an important step in their survival. While Emerald was returning to its ocean home, a new loggerhead hatchling called Chance was brought to the aquarium and is there now.
Loggerhead turtles reach an average length of 3 to 4 feet and weigh up to 450 pounds. Chance is just 3 to 4 inches in length and weighs less than 0.12 pounds.
Chance will remain at Mystic Aquarium for about a year before going back to the sea. At the present time, Chance is in quarantine adjusting to the new environment, but is expected to be on display soon.
Mystic Aquarium's program for loggerheads helps protect them from both natural and man-made perils. The female loggerhead comes ashore and makes a nest where she buries her eggs. These nests are threatened by crabs, snakes, skunks, dogs and humans. When the loggerhead hatchlings migrate from their nests to the sea, they are preyed upon by toads, lizards and assorted other birds and fish. The full-grown adults are rarely attacked because of their larger size. However, they can be preyed upon by sharks, seals and killer whales.
Fishing gear is the biggest threat to loggerheads in the open ocean along with traps, pots and trawls. Nearly 24,000 metric tons of plastic wind up in our oceans and the turtles ingest this floating debris, often mistaking floating plastic for jellyfish, one of their main sources of food.
Turtles look for open-sand beaches above the high tide line to build their nests. Unfortunately, extensive development of beach front property deprives them of suitable nesting areas driving them closer to the surf. Female turtles will come ashore at night to lay their eggs and will follow the moonlight to return to the ocean. Along the shoreline of sea turtle nesting regions, hotels and house are requested to turn off their lights or pull their shades during nesting season as to not confuse females. Like humans, loggerheads are also affected by climate change. Warmer temperatures may skew gender ratios in favor of females.
"The loggerhead is an important part of the ocean's eco-system and the Mystic Aquarium is dedicated to protecting the species from extinction," said Dr. Allison Tuttle, senior director of Animal Care & Veterinary Services at Mystic Aquarium.
"We work closely with other research institutions to implement a program that raises hatchling turtles until they are ready to go back to the sea. Chance will be well looked after by Carly Meiner, one of the aquarists at Mystic. We view ourselves as stewards of the sea and protecting its creatures is extremely important."
Along with visiting Chance, there's lots to do at Mystic Aquarium. The aquarium is home to New England's only beluga whales. I love the African penguins' exhibition as well as the sea lions and seals. There is a 4-D theater where "Planet Earth: Pole to Pole" and "SpongeBob Square Pants: The Great Jelly Rescue" are currently playing. "Titanic -- 12,450 Feet Below" is a fascinating exhibition charting the course of the doomed ocean liner.
Whether it is saving sea turtles from extinction or rescuing a marine mammal in distress on one of our local beaches, Mystic Aquarium plays an important role in educating the public about the hundreds of species that populate our oceans.
Mystic Aquarium is well worth the trip.