More from Myrtle the Turtle
MRB: Now I’ve heard she’ll pretty much do anything for squid?
SFC: I said Brussels sprouts is her favorite food, but no, that’s her favorite produce. She puts squid on a pedestal. And she will steal squid right from the shark’s mouth. We’ve seen her brush by a shark with squid tentacles hanging out of its mouth, and Myrtle grabs it right out of the shark’s mouth. It’s the only way to get her into the box that we weigh her in. We just swim with squid and it’s like a carrot on a stick. You just throw the squid in the box and then she swims in the box. She gets about a quarter of the way in and realizes “ugh…ughhh…I don’t want to go in there…” and she tries to back up and that’s when we divers have to give her a big push, that last and final push and then the box comes out. So, it’s tricky, but its for her own good.
MRB: That box — is that how do you weigh her?
SFC: It’s a large box, made of some sort of plastic. The original use is for aquariums that have to make their own salt water; they get salt in these big giant boxes. So we obtained one of those, and we just modified it, we drilled holes for drainage, we got straps that were rated for something like a million pounds and all the right carabiner clips. We hook it up to an overhead hoist, and we unhook two straps and dip it halfway in the water, swim her in, then the divers pass the straps up to us and we hook it to the hoist, and we can bring her right out of the water. The water drains right out, and there’s usually a hanging scale and that’s how we get her weighed. And then the veterinarians can come out and they can do a fairly thorough exam, and that includes getting blood. And this was something that was always a huge challenge in the past, because really she was too big for any of the harnesses that we’ve had that can also hook up to the hoist. So our exams consisted only of veterinarians who were scuba certified, who had to do it while swimming. Once we tried to get her up to this little beach area, and you’d have six people holding her still, but she could still toss most of us around like rag dolls. And getting blood from an almost 600 – pound animal…it’s only going to happen if she says it is.
MRB: So how do you get her to do something?
SFC: We can motivate her with food. Actually, she was a part of a landmark hearing study. Lots of institutions have trained sea turtles, though they’re not known for their intelligence, but usually it’s just one move. They hit a paddle with their flipper and they get a reward. They hit a paddle with their snout and get a reward. With Myrtle, we actually trained her to make a decision. We had three small platforms, with two speakers on the two end platforms and a light box in the middle. She would have two choices. Either the light would go on, or the light would go on with a tone. So she had to wait, and she would wait right in front of the light box, and if just the light went on, she was to touch that box. If the light went on with a tone, she was to leave the box and choose the speaker that was making the tone.