Rescued Sea Turtles “Phil and Lil” To Go On Exhibit

February 13, 2019

Two sea turtles taken in and treated by the Texas State Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Center will make a new home in the Aquarium’s 400,000-gallon H-E-B Caribbean Sea exhibit.

Green sea turtles “Phil” and “Lil” underwent extensive treatment by the Aquarium’s in-house rescue team after injuries in the wild left them with air trapped in their shells and unlikely to survive in their natural habitat.

Phil was found floating and unable to dive in the Corpus Christi Bay in November 2017, with a large laceration to his shell. Rescue staff cleaned the wound, administered antibiotics and used a feeding tube to give the turtle some necessary nutrients. By January, the turtle had regained some of its strength and appetite, but after nearly a year of rehabilitation in the rescue center’s water systems, it was still unable to dive and remain at deeper depths.

Lil was found at Padre Island National Seashore in December 2017 after being cold-stunned, and on further observation was discovered to also have a healed shell fracture that made the turtle float on the water’s surface while at rest. The turtle was given antibiotics and underwent rehabilitation with the hopes of counteracting these buoyancy issues, but they persisted.

While the work of rescuers undoubtedly saved both of these endangered sea turtles’ lives, their lasting injuries left them permanently unable to dive and catch prey in their natural habitat. In November 2017, the sea turtles were officially deemed non-releasable by the federal government’s standards and transferred to the Aquarium’s Animal Care department, where it was decided they would move into one of the Aquarium’s largest exhibits, H-E-B Caribbean Sea.

After a few weeks under quarantine to ensure they were safe to mingle with other species, Phil and Lil are now being conditioned to swim in their spacious exhibit alongside sharks, rays and other aquatic “neighbors.” On a daily basis, Animal Care staff allows the turtles to swim from an off-exhibit area into the H-E-B Caribbean Sea for up to 30 minutes. Both turtles continue to show signs of difficulty swimming due to the air in their shells, but they can still explore almost all of their new home. In time, Animal Care staff hope to attach weights to the turtle’s shells to help control their buoyancy and give the animals even greater mobility. Animal Care plans for the turtles to eventually live full-time in H-E-B Caribbean, where they’ll be visible to guests during the Aquarium’s open hours.

Phil and Lil, while an unknown age, are estimated to be just a few years old, each measuring about a foot and a half long and weighing just over 25 pounds. They are expected to grow larger in their new home, subsisting on a diverse vegetable diet of lettuce, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, radishes, and green beans. To give the turtles their unique diet separately from other animals, they are “target-trained” for feeding. Each turtle will approach a uniquely-shaped “target” placed in the water during feeding time, since they associate the target with their daily meal.

In their new home, the Aquarium hopes Phil and Lil can live the remainder of their lives in a safe and comfortable environment while serving as “animal ambassadors” that can teach the public how to protect turtles. Many sea turtles like Phil and Lil in the Gulf of Mexico suffer injuries to their shells because boats hit turtles when they surface to breathe. To minimize the chances of striking a turtle, experts advise that boaters control their speeds and keep an eye on the water at all times.

To learn more about the Texas State Aquarium and its turtle rescue program, visit www.texasstateaquarium.org/turtlerescue.

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