Known for their hard shells, beautiful heart-shaped carapace, massive heads and strong jaws, loggerhead turtles feed on other hard-shelled prey, which is an important function for marine health – recycling important nutrients and keeping ocean floor sediments balanced. This means they are considered a ‘keystone species’, and that other animals in its ecosystem rely on it for survival – making every one of these turtles even more precious.

Looking nothing like the above description, mainly due to its juvenile status and the miniscule 182 grams it weighs in at, an unwell loggerhead has recently been at Auckland Zoo’s Vet Hospital for some vital veterinary care. Found washed up on 90-mile beach, dehydrated and covered in barnacles a member of the public did the right thing and contacted the Department of Conservation (DOC).

By the time it was sent to Auckland Zoo the turtle’s barnacles had been removed, but it still required an initial veterinary assessment and ongoing treatment by our talented team. Veterinary resident Dr Stefan Saverimuttu, said that it’s important to give it an opportunity to swim for exercise, but also to test its buoyancy and swimming abilities.

Veterinary Manager Dr James Chatterton explains that some turtles ingest plastic which always leaves a big question mark during assessment as you can’t see it on x-rays. So it’s a big step when you eventually find a turtle poo, because it means our vets know there’s no obstruction.

It’s important to test their swimming ability, because Dr Stefan explains that whilst swimming “if they’re fit and well they don’t stop swimming, unless they are sitting on the bottom just resting.” This is an important indicator for whether they are ready for rehabilitation. Upon arrival sea turtles are quite dehydrated, so other important treatments includes oral and injectable fluid therapy, which is the equivalent of us as humans being placed on an IV drip.


A tremendous effort to save a tiny sea turtle

Auckland Zoo has been working with Kelly Tarlton’s for the last eight years, in a collaboration to get sick turtles healthy and back into the wild. As Dr James puts it, it’s important to collaborate as each institution brings a unique skill set that the others don’t have. Sick turtles from the wild are often coordinated by DOC to receive veterinary treatment at Auckland Zoo, which then are sent to Kelly Tarlton’s for rehabilitation, and when ready and if healthy enough they are then released back to the wild.

“New Zealand is at southern most range of a lot of sea turtles’ natural range, depending on currents and the season. It’s normal for them to live in coastal waters around New Zealand, especially the north of North Island. But it’s absolutely abnormal for them to be on our beaches. The only time is if it’s female and it’s trying to lay eggs and that doesn’t happen in New Zealand. If it’s found on a beach in New Zealand it’s profoundly unwell and nearly dead,” says Dr James.

If you ever see a turtle – or any marine species – in distress. Please don’t approach it. Call DOC on 0800 DOC HOT and they’ll take the right course of action, and if needed, bring the turtle to our vets for treatment.  

You can learn more about our vet hospital and all the amazing work the talented team does, on the vet hospital page.