Bite like a sea turtle (or don’t it hurts)!

My last post mentioned one of my adventures included being bit by a sea turtle (more details below). So I am going to take the opportunity to tell you why sea turtles are still my favorite sea creature, even after the bite.

The majority of us have seen them through one media source or another, I was no different.  So I knew I liked them even before I got a chance to interact with them.

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While going to school at the University of Texas I had the opportunity to travel to their campus in Port Aransas and tour the animal rescue that is connected to the campus. That was where I saw my first Green Sea Turtle. They would pop their heads up for air and exhale two perfect little bubbles of air through their little nostrils, I knew I was a goner.

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A lot of sea turtles that end up in rehabilitation or rescue clinics is because they have sustain damage to their shell, either for a boating collision or other trauma. This can cause an air pocket to form and their butts to float to the surface. If this trauma cannot be fixed (which in most cases it can’t be) they will have to remain in captivity because their chances of survival in the wild are highly reduced. Sea turtles that have recovered though and have been deemed fit to be released are tagged so they can be tracked and studied once they are back out in the ocean. This is critical if we want to learn their routines, patterns, and life cycles. This can lead to better protection and conservation measures for future generation. 309880_10151391974638728_16959671_n

They are very curious animals, as I learned first hand while working as a diver at an aquarium for a year cleaning exhibits and doing educational shows. This was where I first got my “in the water” experience with sea turtles. My first day in the largest exhibits, where we had some nurse sharks and a sand tiger shark, I was floating preparing with my dive master before descending when I see the sea turtle next to me lunge at me (he did NOT like us being in his space). The dive master also lunged and thought he had intercepted him in time, but the turtle had the chance to pinch the skin on the back of my hand. I didn’t say anything (it being my second day and all) so we went down, did a swim through of the exhibit, and surfaced again. At this point my hand was burning and looked like it may be bleeding under my glove. Since there were sharks in the exhibit I wanted to be sure and took my glove off… Luckily he (the sea turtle) hadn’t broken the skin on the back of my hand, there was only bleeding under the skin. So, again, like any good employee I went back to work, kept diving without ever seeing a doctor, and needless to say it scarred.

 

Other than this first time, I had some really cool experiences with the other turtles at the aquarium. They really liked the electric scrubber we used and always thought it was food. One even swam under me for 30 minutes trying to eat the bristles every so often. It was one of the coolest experiences! They would also come up and bite your flippers (again thinking it was food). The time this happened to me scared the bejeezus out of me, because you can’t hear them coming under water. I was in the tank with the sharks again and thought it was one of them, but turned around to see it was a sea turtle (different one than the one that bit my hand)  who had released my flipper but was swimming towards it like he was going to try biting again. So I gently pushed him away.

This behavior is not unlike sea turtles in the wild. They try taking bites out of just about everything they see floating. One of their main sources of food are jellyfish. So a lot of plastic that ends up in the ocean can resemble that to a sea turtle, especially plastic bags you get at the grocery store. (Side note: if you are ever on the beach and see a piece of plastic that has washed ashore that has a diamond shape hole in it, 9 times out of 10 its a bite from a sea turtle)

Populations, much like a lot of species these days, are in decline. Sea turtles generally have really long life spans and are creatures of habit, coming back to the same beaches to lay their eggs year after year. The research gained through trackers and observation helps local communities and organizations set up protective measures to guard nests and do what they can to make sure the next generation has the best chance of survival right out of the gate. So the next time you are at the beach keep your eyes out for blocked off sections, there may be sea turtle nests! A lot of coastal hotels are also changing the lights they use on their beaches because bright fluorescent lighting can actually scare away mothers and then they will drop their eggs in the ocean.

I could go on, they are just amazing animals that are curious about the world around them. They depend on us to help keep our world clean and safe so they can continue to remind us why nature is so important and how graceful and curious the world around us really is.

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Want to know more about the things I mentioned? Check out these links:

Also, if you are curious as to what started the ban on plastic straws check out this video that went viral and kickstarted the movement (sound on). (Warning: it is slightly graphic and I can still only get through like 10 seconds of it.)

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