A day in Quincy

This is a guest post from Ann Cortissoz, a writer in the Marketing and Communications department and editor of the member magazine, blue. She volunteered to help the Rescue team during the height of the sea turtle stranding season.

I'm an Aquarium staff member who doesn't usually work with Rescue and Rehab, so when I went down to Quincy to lend a hand at the Animal Care Center, two things struck me over and over again: When you're rehabbing rescued sea turtles, you need patience and organization—lots and lots of both.

The day I was in Quincy, more than 70 turtles were being treated. Most of them were swimming in the big tanks, but some of the animals that weren't yet strong enough to be in deep water were in kiddie pools, and these animals had to be watched over by a volunteer acting as a lifeguard.

Some turtles were swimming in actual kiddie pools (top) but there were so many that needed to be in shallow water that the staff had to improvise. The little guy on the left above is in a container that was designed to transport harbor porpoise.

What really took me by surprise is how much record-keeping has to happen. The staff has to make sure that each turtle is getting the treatment it's supposed to get based on its condition. Each animal has a chart labeled with its intake number (the number on its shell) and other information.

Every time an animal gets a shot of antibiotics, or vitamins, or fluids, the treatment is marked in its chart. Every time the animal is examined, the results of the exam are marked down in its chart. Not only does this take a lot of time, given the number of turtles, it also takes a lot of staff. Each time a turtle is treated, not only does a staff member have to administer treatment, someone else has to hold the turtle. That was my job for much of my day, and it's surprising how much those little flippers sting when the turtles start waving them around.

You can see this turtle flapping its flippers as a volunteer holds onto it.

It's also not easy feeding 70-plus rescued sea turtles on a twice-daily basis. And it's not quick. Every day, when squid and other fish is prepped for the feedings, it's cut into carefully weighed portions so the people feeding the animals know how much each morsel weighs.

These pieces of squid have been weighed and are ready to be fed to the turtles.

The rescue staff has calculated how much food each turtle should be eating per day, and this amount is written next to the turtle's ID number on the feeding charts. Each time a turtle I was trying to feed ate a squid ring or a portion of tentacle, I had to record it on the chart.

One of the feeding charts

Because such careful records have to be kept, each turtle is fed individually. Using long tongs, a staff member or volunteer holds a piece of fish in front of an individual turtle and hopes the turtle grabs it. Holding the tongs takes some coordination; you have to keep the piece of fish in the tongs until the turtle reaches for it, then let go. Eventually the animals will graduate and be fed differently but at this stage of rehab they are fed individually.

Some turtles snap up the food right away (see the video below), but some need to be coaxed (and coaxed and coaxed) by waving the food gently in front of them. This is so time-consuming that by the time the morning feeding is done, it's almost time for the afternoon feeding to start. And by the time the afternoon feeding is done, it feels like the next day's morning feeding is ready to start!

At the end of the day, I was exhausted (and I didn't even really do anything except hold turtles and try to feed them). On my way home, thinking about the day I had spent at the Animal Care Center, I had to shake my head in amazement at the quality of care the Rescue and Rehab staff gives these rescued sea turtles. And they do it every day.

—Ann Cortissoz

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