In May, 2003 a little Green Sea Turtle arrived at the Florida Marine Science Center, covered from head to toe with green hair algae. The Marine Science Center staff called him “Oscar” because of his resemblance to “Sesame Street’s” Oscar the Grouch. He 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 of his shell) down into his plastron (the bottom of his shell). His lung was exposed and it expanded outside the wound area with every breath he took. The wound was also 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 stitch him up one exhale at a time.
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. Why is Oscar so buoyant? Many things can cause air bubbles in turtles. Foreign bodies, obstructions, bacteria, protozoa, polyps or parasites are possible causes. Many sea turtles that experience trauma have buoyancy control issues from their injuries. But Oscar has developed his own style of swimming with his front flippers. (Watch him go below!)
Although the Florida facility’s mission is to return rehabilitated turtles to the wild, Oscar’s extensive injuries make him non-releasable. Instead, Oscar (then about the size of a dinner plate) came to the Tennessee Aquarium in 2005 as part of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit. Oscar later made his move to the Secret Reef in Ocean Journey. This meant a deeper tank and more neighbors. He now swims beside more diverse marine species, and has even been spotted chasing some of the sharks that share his tank.
Today, Oscar weighs around 125 pounds and is thriving as one of the Aquarium’s most recognizable animals. According to Aquarist Jake Steventon, he has certainly made his home in the Secret Reef. “Oscar has his favorite napping spots, including a couple where he can wedge in under the rocks to keep his rear end down,”said Steventon. “He is pretty fearless and mischievous. He is unafraid to try to steal the sharks’ food from right under their noses.”
While he continues to grow (Green Sea Turtles can grow to weigh 400 pounds), he serves as an important reminder of both human impact on ocean life and the power of our efforts to save it. Each year, hundreds of sea turtles are injured by boat propellers, trash in the water or by natural causes like encounters with predators. More public education is needed to help save sea turtles like Oscar and other marine animals impacted by our presence in their environment.
While Oscar will enjoy life at the Aquarium for years to come, you can now bring home your own special edition Oscar plush! This new stuffed animal is missing its tail, whole right, and half of its left rear flipper. And, just like the real Oscar, this cuddly soft creature has an injured shell. “Oscar the Plush” is an inspirational gift that can be found in the Aquarium’s Gift Shops.