For Julie, a normal day at the Aquarium includes caring for alligators, stingrays and hatchling sea turtles. After getting her feet wet as a volunteer while a student at UNCW, Julie later became the lead aquarist in charge of many of the reptiles and amphibians at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “I enjoy the challenges and rewards of caring for the hatchlings and watching them grow,” says Julie.
Each summer, the Aquarium works with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and local sea turtle rescue organizations, accepting a limited number of hatchlings that did not make the initial trek to the ocean. Generally, these turtles are discovered during routine nest excavations three days after hatching. Julie’s job is to care for these turtles and help them grow. While at the Aquarium, the animals receive careful monitoring and care to ensure proper growth and good health. When they arrive, most sea turtles are about the size of an Oreo cookie, but a fraction of the weight. During their stay, they grow and help educate nearly half a million visitors a year about sea turtle species, all of which are threatened or endangered.
Julie spends more than a year raising the turtles and then helps select the new batch of hatchlings in the fall. Once hurricane season is over and ocean conditions are right, Julie knows it’s time to send the turtles off on their own. Sometimes she helps release them back into the ocean. It is a difficult job to care for baby sea turtles but she is rewarded every time a turtle is released back into the ocean.
You can watch Julie releasing a turtle. In this video you will notice a satellite tag on the turtle’s shell.
Many facilities that release turtles attach satellite tags to track their turtles when they leave. In 2012 and 2013, the Aquarium tagged the yearling turtles to track them when they left the Aquarium. You can follow turtles currently tracked on seaturtle.org. Do you have a favorite animal to follow online? Share your favorite tracking website in the comments.
We are not the only North Carolina Aquarium to release sea turtles. Our sister facility, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island has a new rehabilitation center called the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. They released their loggerhead sea turtle, Vortex, into the ocean at Nags Head on Labor Day Weekend. Aquarium staff and N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) volunteers cared for Vortex for more than a year. Vortex was found with propeller wounds to the head, shell, and left front flipper on May 22, 2013. As part of its rehabilitation, a CT scan was performed to determine no brain damage had occurred, and the hardy sea turtle was approved for release. Follow Vortex’s progress through satellite tracking at http://goo.gl/iVQjaC.
Next week we meet Judy, one of our Aquarium volunteers who helps Carol and Julie work with our sea turtles.