More from Myrtle the Turtle
MRB: Do the sharks feel like there’s some natural hierarchy in the water, since Myrtle is so much bigger and has been there longer?
SFC: It’s a theory, but I don’t really think so. I think if push came to shove and the sharks really felt threatened, they’re going to become sharks. They tend to get spooked when she gets close and they’re more apt to back off than be aggressive. Sand tiger sharks are considered a docile species but we have to our wits about us when we’re feeding them — I mean I’ve seen these guys snap like any other shark. And I think that if they were really challenged, that they would step up to the plate and live up to their name.
Some of Myrtle’s interaction with other animals over the year has been interesting though. For example, when she was really into the thick of that hearing study, she started to associate that equipment — the speakers, the light box — as her stuff and we saw this real territorial behavior. She would sort of hover around it and if any turtle came within inches of that, she would chase the turtle across the tank to get it away from her stuff. And we thought, “Okay, that makes sense…turtles are going to pose a territorial threat to each other.” So that makes sense, but then we noticed that even if the bigger fish got a little close, she would chase them off. That was very interesting. She has had some interaction with other turtles; it’s clear that she is the dominant turtle in the tank, but you don’t really see that much interaction. Every now and then she’ll hassle a turtle that’s simply swimming by and she’ll give this look and sort of muscle into it a little, and the turtle will sort of dart off.
A really funny thing that happened recently is that we just put in this new little sea turtle, Ari, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. We’re starting to call her “Little Myrtle,” because she’s got a huge appetite which is really unusual for the ridleys. They tend to be picky eaters. She’s just like Myrtle: we had to create a feeding station with her, because she was getting nippy with the divers, associating us with food. So there’s been some interesting interactions between those two, and Myrtle is like this giant thing and she’s this little thing. Every now and then you’ll see them coming towards each other, and there’s just this eye contact and they get this close and then turn, but they’re both looking at each other like this, and the little one doesn’t back down. She does not back down. It’s really interesting to see. I did see Ari back down the other day: she’s new to the tank and she decided she was going to sleep in Myrtle’s favorite sleeping spot. I saw Ari down there, and I got the other divers to hang out and see what would happen when Myrtle came back to her spot.