More from Myrtle the Turtle

While generations of Bostonians have visited Myrtle the Turtle at the New England Aquarium, they’ve often watched as wetsuited divers in the Giant Ocean Tank handfeed Myrtle, pat her head, or make frantic hand gestures that she seems either to understand or stubbornly ignore. To learn about her history and to understand the unique relationship Myrtle has with her handlers, Boston spoke to senior aquarist Sherrie Floyd Cutler, who jokes that she’s been the turtle’s “personal assistant” for 16 years.

[sidebar]MRB: So let’s get a couple essentials out of the way first. How old is Myrtle, roughly?

SFC: We don’t know exactly, but we based our estimate on a few facts. First, she was already a mature adult when she came to us, and we know that turtles reach sexual maturity at around 30 years. So that was the only information we had to go on. Back in the day, it was before I was here, people said, “Okay, let’s say she’s 30.” And it’s sort of gone from there.

In terms of the public and telling them how old she is, the example I use is, “I can look at you and say, I could guess what your age range is, but unless I was there, or knew you when you were born, I have no idea exactly how old you are.” It’s the same thing with animals. If you weren’t there when they were hatched or born, you don’t know exactly how old they are. So we use age classes with sea turtles: they’re either hatchlings, juveniles, sub-adults or adults. So she’s an adult, and we estimate her age. We’ve just been going up from 30, because we just took a rough estimate that she had to be at least 30 because we knew she was an adult, so we’re saying somewhere around 70ish. And we always end with ‘ish.’ 70ish, 75ish, something around there. We’re probably pretty close.

MRB: Is that middle-aged, for a turtle? What’s the life span usually?

SFC: I’d say she’s middle-aged. It depends on what scientist you’re talking to, but I think most of the information out there would point, in terms of their longevity, to 100–plus years.

MRB: She’s a green sea turtle. What’s her genus and species?

SFC: Chelonia mydas.

MRB: Her weight?

SFC: After years of not knowing, we finally devised a protocol that allows us to weigh her. The most recent weight is 555 pounds.