To Crab or Not to Crab? That is the Question.

The goal of rehabilitation is to release the animals back into the wild, and there are many things we do here to make sure our sea turtles are ready. One part is to offer the turtles live food like they would eat in the wild, and for Kemp's ridleys and loggerhead sea turtles, this includes crabs. The crabs we offer are species that are found right here in the Boston Harbor, including the rock crab and the green crab.

We have to make sure the turtles are stable enough and their gastrointestinal tract (GI) is clear. When cold-stunned turtles first arrive, their GI tends to be full of food parts (including crab claws) that are not moving through the digestive system in their initial debilitated state. We monitor the GI by radiographs and observation of bowel movements. We also look at the fecal samples under the microscope to look for parasites like we found in Acadia.

The picture on the left is Bandelier's initial radiograph. Notice the condensed areas in the middle of the x-ray. That is digestive material in his intestines. The picture on the right is Bandelier's radiograph two weeks later. You can see that material is moving through his digestive tract which is a good sign.

Once everything is working properly and there is a normal parasite load, we will start to offer crabs to the turtle. It is not unusual for some turtles to ignore the crabs in the beginning since they prefer their restaurant quality herring and squid, but after some time they figure out how to be a turtle again and start the process of preparing for release.

Casper, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle from the 2008 season, eats his first crab.

Acadia still needs some time for us to monitor her parasite load and we will continue to monitor her digestive system through radiographs. We won't be surprised if she's eating crabs very soon!

~Kerry and Jill


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