Turtles Ready to Rescue!

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Last winter, the New England Aquarium’s Rescue and Rehabilitation made national news when more than 700 sea turtles came through our doors needing help. These cold-stunned turtles were found on the beaches of Cape Cod, brought to our rehabilitation facility in Quincy and were nursed back to health by our knowledgeable staff and volunteers.

Visitors can try their hand at feeding sea turtle patients.

This summer, visitors get to experience sea turtle rescue with our new interactive hospital. Have you ever wanted to see what it’s like to rehabilitate a turtle and be part of the life-saving crew? Now’s your chance to join turtle rescue team!

This sign will greet you when you arrive.
Upon entering the interactive hospital, you will receive a quick overview of why sea turtles strand...but then it's straight to work! Turtles are brought up from Cape Cod to the Aquarium's Quincy facility in banana boxes, which are the perfect size for these small turtles, and nestled in a towel for safe transport.

Banana boxes full of replica turtles
As their body temperature drops, a turtle's heartbeat may slow to one beat per minute! Pick one of the three turtles and see if you can find a heartbeat. Use the doppler to listen carefully…did you find it? Next, listen to how the heartbeat of a cold-stunned turtle compares to a healthy turtle. Quite a difference!

Look and listen for a heartbeat
Once a heartbeat has been established, it’s on to diagnostics. First, a rescued turtle is stabilized with fluids and slowly brought up to the right temperature. Then the hard work of identifying all of a turtle's issues begins. Some turtles are just cold and dehydrated; some come in with other issues. Scan the respiratory, digestive and skeletal systems of each turtle to see what's wrong.

Work to diagnose what's wrong
Scanning systems...
Now that you have a diagnosis, learn what treatment the turtle needs to get better and see the Aquarium staff in action as they work to save animals and get them on the road to recovery. 

Working to solve the problem
Now that the turtles are on the mend, turn your attention to the next rehabilitation station. After you’ve been sick, what do you want to do when you feel better? You want to eat, of course! Turtles need to eat on their own before they can be released as they will need to forage successfully to survive. At the feeding station, offer a squid snack to the hungry turtles.

Try your hand at feeding
You may try to feed a turtle, and it won't eat. Try again, however, and see how their appetites grow over time! One bite closer to being released to their ocean home! 

Thanks to the work that YOU did alongside our Aquarium team, these turtles get a new lease on life. But this is just one piece of the turtle rescue team puzzle. The job isn’t done. Throughout the Aquarium, you will see what more we all can do to help sea turtles, as well as other species of turtles. Whether it is single-use plastics or climate change, turtles face challenges in their environment, both across the world and in our own backyards. Thankfully, the Turtle Rescue Team is growing, and together we can help solve these challenges to ensure a successful future for turtles…and humans!

Join the team!


An Anemones Breakfast

This morning in the Pacific tidepool exhibit it looked like sea star was on the menu.

Spotted in the Northern Waters Gallery
Giant green anemones are sessile creatures, meaning they remain mostly fixed to the sea floor by a smooth, muscular disk. That disk can move about very slowly so these animals often feed opportunistically on fish, crabs, and sea urchins that come their way. Looks like this sea star got a little too close to those stinging tentacles.

It just goes to show you that you never what you'll find at the Aquarium—and in the wild. Last year, photos of a green anemone digesting a cormorant circulated around the internet.

Cool stuff, right? Here are some other links you might enjoy:


Local Species: Skeleton Shrimp

This post is part of an occasional series on local marine species compiled by New England Aquarium aquarist Peter Gawne. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are Peter's. When he's not diving locally for these posts or researching coral reefs in Belize, Peter takes care of the touch tank's sharks and rays and the jellies exhibit. Today's post is about skeleton shrimp (family Caprellidae).

According to evolutionary theory, half a billion years ago each of the major arthropodan groups, the Crustaceans (shrimp, crab, amphipods), Uniramians (insects, millipedes, centipedes), and Chelicerates (spiders, mites, horseshoe crabs) shared a common ancestor, probably something resembling a trilobite. Skeleton shrimp are classified as Crustaceans, alongside shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

Skeleton shrimp are classified as amphipods of the family Caprellidae.  They are sometimes known as caprellid amphipods.  While they might resemble a science-fiction monster, skeleton shrimp rarely achieve 2 inches in length.

While outwardly skeleton shrimp look quite different from crabs and lobsters, they are actually closely related. They have branched appendages, two pairs of antenna, the same number of legs, and a similar general body form. They differ, however, in that they lack a carapace and females possess a brood pouch. Skeleton shrimp also do not have a free-living larval stage. This means that the population is dispersed not by currents, but rather the actual migration of the adults.

The body of an amphipod is divided into three sections: head, thorax, and abdomen.  In skeleton shrimp, and all amphipods, the legs of the thorax differ from the legs of the abdomen.  The thorax of the skeleton shrimp also contains the respiratory structures: two pairs of paddle-like gills.

Skeleton shrimp bodies are long and cylindrical. They possess two pairs of legs at the front of their bodies, and three pairs at the back. The front legs are praying mantis-like claws, used for defense, grooming, and food capture. The rear legs are used to hold onto algae or other surfaces.

Skeleton shrimp are found throughout the marine waters of New England, usually clinging to algae, bryzoans, or hydroids with their posterior legs. Skeleton shrimp are especially abundant in fouling communities, which means they are frequently found on docks, pilings, and ropes. Their slender body resembles the very algae that they cling to, allowing them to virtually disappear as they wait to ambush prey.

Microscopy reveals the brood pouch of this female skeleton shrimp, an amphipod of the family Caprellidae.  Female skeleton shrimp brood their larvae until they are ready to emerge as miniature-sized adults.

As a group, skeleton shrimp are opportunistic omnivores. They are able to feed upon diatoms, detritus, various larvae, and even other skeleton shrimp. Some species use fine hairs on their antennae to filter particles from the water column. Most skeleton shrimp are predators, using their front claws, called gnathopods, to capture smaller invertebrates.

An array of feeding and sensory structures allows skeleton shrimp to capture and consume a wide variety of food sources.
Most skeleton shrimp possess a venomous tooth on their gnathopods. Males may use this tooth as a weapon during competition with other males. This tooth is capable of inflicting serious damage, and combat can result in death. This is an extremely rare case in the animal kingdom–the only other animals known to apply venom in intraspecific completion are male platypuses and slow lorises. Females sometimes use this tooth to kill a male after mating. But rest assured, the venomous tooth of skeleton shrimp is tiny, and poses no threat to humans.