hundreds of sea turtles are injured by boat propellers, trash
in the water or by natural causes like encounters with predators.
Some turtles die from these injuries, but some lucky animals
are brought to rehabilitation facilities. Oscar is one such
Tenn. (Jan. 23, 2005) – Oscar is a survivor.
missing most of his two back flippers; his shell bears
the scars of a collision with a boat propeller; and
the back portion of his shell floats due to trapped
air. However, the plucky little sea turtle seems to
be untroubled by these injuries – he eats, swims
and explores his new home in the Tennessee Aquarium’s
Gulf of Mexico exhibit.
who recently joined the other residents of the Gulf
exhibit in the Aquarium’s River Journey building,
came to the Aquarium from a rehabilitation facility
in Florida. Although the facility’s goal is to
return rehabilitated turtles to the wild, Oscar’s
extensive injuries make him non-releasable.
arrived at the Florida Marine Science Center in May 2003,
he had massive injuries and was covered from head to toe with
green hair algae. Because of his fuzzy green countenance,
the Marine Science Center staff christened him “Oscar”
because of his resemblance to Sesame Street’s Oscar
was missing his right rear flipper and about a third of his
left rear flipper. The injury to his right rear flipper –
most likely caused by a predator – was old and had already
healed. However, his other injuries were extensive. He had
a deep cut from a boat propeller through his carapace (the
top part of his shell) down into his plastron (the bottom
part of his shell). His lung was exposed and expanding outside
the wound area with every breath he took. The wound also was
filled with silt and debris. Marine Science Center staff members
cleaned his wound and began to stitch it up. This was very
difficult because every time Oscar took a breath, his lung
came out of the opening, so they had to literally stitch him
up one exhale at a time.
the wound was closed, the little turtle was not yet out of
the woods. He needed constant care that included keeping his
wounds clean and bandaged. He had to be tube fed a diet of
ground-up fish to quickly put on weight. Soon he was able
to eat whole fish. Within a month, Oscar began to behave more
like a sea turtle but with one small problem – he was
buoyant in the water and bobbed like a cork!
causes Oscar to float?
is no one answer – many things can cause air bubbles
in turtles. Foreign bodies, obstructions, bacteria, protozoa,
polyps or parasites are possible causes. The challenge in
successful turtle rehabilitation lies in assessing the symptoms,
behaviors and reactions of each individual turtle. Many sea
turtles that experience trauma have buoyancy control issues
from their injuries.
was X-rayed when he arrived to the Aquarium. His X-ray clearly
shows a bloated digestive tract. This air is especially problematic
for Oscar because he is missing his two back flippers. Sea
turtles use the two back flippers as rudders when they swim
to help steer them through the water. Because he is buoyant
and missing flippers, he has more of a challenge staying down
in the water column.
his injuries have healed, the next step in Oscar’s treatment
is to help him work the excess air out of his body. Aquarium
biologists have him on a high fiber diet of cauliflower, bok-choy,
broccoli, sugar snap peas, green bell pepper and cucumber.
He also receives protein in the form of herring and shrimp.
While in the rehabilitation facility, Oscar’s tank was
only five feet deep. His new home in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit
allows Oscar to swim deeper. Swimming in deeper water may
help Oscar to rid himself of the air bubble that causes him
to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park Web site, in the
past century, habitat destruction, incidental and intentional
turtle harvesting and temperature change have accelerated
the decline of sea turtle populations worldwide. An increasing
incidence of diseases and health-related problems in the wild
pose an additional threat to their survival. Today,
all sea turtles found in U.S. waters are federally listed
as endangered, except for the loggerhead, which is listed
Aquarium has joined with other zoos and aquariums around the
country to help protect endangered animals in the wild. We
will present Congress with signed petitions requesting an
additional $3,000,000 annually to protect tigers, great apes,
Asian and African elephants, marine turtles and rhinos. These
animals face tremendous danger in the wild from poaching,
habitat loss, human-animal conflict and many other serious
will go to the federal Multinational Species Conservation
Fund, which has a 14-year track record of making a difference.
the petition is an easy and effective way for our visitors
to help save wildlife. Petitions are located near the exits
of both the River Journey and the Ocean Journey buildings.