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A Turtle's Tale
Injured green sea turtle gets chance for a new life
at the Tennessee Aquarium

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Jan. 23, 2005) – Oscar is a survivor.

He’s 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.

Oscar, 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.

Each year, 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 turtle.

When he 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 the Grouch.

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.

Even after 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!

What causes Oscar to float?

There 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.

Oscar 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.

Now that 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 float.

According 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 as threatened.

The Tennessee 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 problems.

The money will go to the federal Multinational Species Conservation Fund, which has a 14-year track record of making a difference.

Signing 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.

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The Tennessee Aquarium inspires wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Admission is $17.95 per adult and $9.50 per child, ages 3-12. Each ticket purchased helps support Aquarium conservation programs. The IMAX® 3D Theater is next door to the Aquarium. Ticket prices are $7.95 per adult and $5.50 per child. Aquarium/IMAX combo tickets are $22.95 for adults and $13.50 for children. Advance tickets may be purchased online at www.tnaqua.org or by phone at 1-800-262-0695. The Aquarium, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, is a non-profit organization. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Aquarium and IMAX are accessible to people with disabilities. Members enjoy unlimited visits and other benefits. Call 267-FISH to join.

ONLINE press kits & downloadable images: http://www.tnaqua.org/Newsroom/Newsroom.asp

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