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Wonders of Wildlife rings in the new year with sea turtle rescue


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Dec 14, 2023
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Springfield, Mo. Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium (WOW) opened its doors—and waters—to its third group of loggerhead sea turtles facing life-threatening conditions.

The ten cold-stunned turtles arrived January 2 by private aircraft on a rescue flight coordinated by the nonprofit organization, Turtles Fly Too, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The rescued loggerheads flew from the New England Aquarium in Massachusetts to Springfield, Missouri, where they were met by an expert animal care team from WOW and transported to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Center.

The loggerhead sea turtles were stranded on the coast near Cape Cod after experiencing “cold stunning”. This condition occurs when water temperatures rapidly decline, and sea turtles are unable to move to warmer waters. Because loggerheads are cold-blooded reptiles that depend on their surroundings to maintain body temperature, this dramatic change causes them to suffer from a form of hypothermia called cold stunning. Leaving the turtles lethargic and unable to secure food and fend for themselves, cold stunning is fatal if the animals are not rescued. This season the Northeast has already seen almost 1,000 cold stuns wash ashore needing help – making it the third largest number of sea turtles found stranded on record out of the Northeastern United States.

Named America’s Best Aquarium by the readers of USA Today for a fourth time in 2022 and recently accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), Wonders of Wildlife will provide the loggerhead turtles with critical medical care and long-term rehabilitation before releasing them back into their natural habitats.

The cold-stunned sea turtle’s length of stay at their temporary home depends on their eating behaviors and activity but typically will be released back to the ocean around 12 weeks. All seven sea turtle species are on the endangered species list, including loggerheads – making WOW’s commitment to rehabilitation even more important. With the complexity of their life cycle, only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings that make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood. It is vital to the future of their species to return as many sea turtles as possible back to the wild population. They are an essential part of marine ecosystems worldwide and are at great risk due to water temperature changes and other environmental factors.

“WOW is honored to once again be helping cold stunned sea turtles,” said Mike Daniel, Director of Animal Care at Wonders of Wildlife. “Sea turtles are a keystone species in the ocean and are vital to the long-term health of that ecosystem. Turtles have many jobs in the wild – from gardeners that tend the sea grass beds and prevent overgrowth, care takers of coral reefs eating sponges that could harm corals, and are vehicles for dozens of species like barnacles, crabs, and algae that travel on their backs to different parts of the world where they breed and thrive. Sea turtles are also pivotal to the health of beaches and sea oats that utilize the nutrients from old nests to grow and prevent erosion.”

Wonders of Wildlife’s expert animal care team and volunteers awaiting cold-stunned sea turtle arrival.

The WOW Life Sciences Team at the airport collecting the turtles.

From left to right: Deborah Pears (Registrar), Olivia Rose (Lead Keeper), Mike Daniel (Director of Animal Care), Chelsea Higgins (Veterinary Assistant), Marc Wittmer (Volunteer), and Phillip Faulkner (Volunteer)

Due to their size, loggerheads are harder to place, and WOW is one of the few facilities that has enough space to care for them. This makes Wonders of Wildlife the only rescue, rehabilitation, and release center in the Midwest and allows WOW to educate guests on these endangered animals and the importance of protecting them. These rescue sea turtles are not open for public display. However, guests can visit our two resident green sea turtles on display in the Open Ocean exhibit at WOW.

WOW’s Life Sciences and Veterinary teams immediately begin their work by developing care and treatment plans that are customized for each turtle based on its particular needs. Each animal is monitored around the clock and carefully fed, measured, and assessed. Key components include gradually warming the animals back to a stable body temperature and ensuring they can eat and swim normally. Care is administered with the goal that each of the turtles will make a full recovery and be safely released back into the wild. For the caretakers at WOW Sea Turtle Rescue Center, the sense of excitement and responsibility are at an all-time high.

“For our team to have a hand in the rehabilitation and future release back into the wild of these animals means so much to us,” Daniel said. “We want to do everything we can to make sure that we don’t lose these amazing animals from the world’s oceans!”

Local partnership brews conservation efforts

To further generate awareness for endangered sea turtle populations, WOW has partnered with local Springfield brewery, Mother’s Brewing Company, to create a lager that benefits conservation efforts. Izzy Lager—fondly named after one of WOW’s green sea turtles who suffered injuries in the wild and has been rehabilitated at the aquarium. Proceeds from the exclusive brew will be donated to conservation efforts and is available for purchase at the following properties:

  • Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
  • Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
  • Top of the Rock’s Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail
  • Mother’s Brewing Company
  • Big Cedar Lodge
  • Finley Farms
  • Hemingway’s Blue Water Café
  • White River Fish House
Izzy showing off the new Izzy Lager from Mothers Brewing Co.

“By partnering with one of our favorite local breweries to introduce the Izzy Lager, we are working to inform and educate the public of our conservation efforts and the unique challenges sea turtles face. With each of our key wildlife initiatives, our goal is to inspire future conservationists” said Bryan Nadeau, Vice President of The Johnny Morris Foundation.

To thank the community for its support of Wonders of Wildlife and its conservation initiatives, each of the turtles this year will be named after local cities and towns in the Springfield area. For more information and to keep updated on the ten loggerhead sea turtles, visit www.wondersofwildlife.org/sea-turtles

The post Wonders of Wildlife rings in the new year with sea turtle rescue appeared first on Wonders of Wildlife.
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