A sea turtle that almost died tangled in fishing line off Florida’s gulf coast will live the rest of its life in safety at Kansas City’s Sea Life aquarium at Crown Center.
The turtle, which Sea Life has named Gertrude, is scheduled to arrive by crate on a Southwest Airlines flight at Kansas City International Airport Monday afternoon. She will be kept in a holding tank for a few days and then placed on public view in the aquarium’s big tank, probably on Friday.
It is the first turtle for Sea Life, which opened last April with roughly 5,000 creatures.
“A lot of people asked why we didn’t have a sea turtle at the opening,” said Aaron Sprowl, curator for Sea Life. “What people don’t understand is sea turtles are an endangered species. To get one you have to go through a lot of permitting processes with the federal government and the state. As soon as we opened our doors we started the permit process and got it finalized around the end of last year.”
The species is called the green sea turtle, one of the largest in the world. This turtle has been living at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla., since it was rescued in September 2011. A fisherman in Pinellas County spotted the turtle in distress. Fishing line was wrapped tightly around its two front flippers and its neck.
A care team at the aquarium found that one flipper was broken and the other damaged. They initially tried placing the broken one in a cast but then decided they had to amputate it.
“Unfortunately, it happens more often than I would like,” said Mike Anderson, supervisor of sea turtle programs at the aquarium known for its marine animal rescue and rehabilitation. “We get turtles for all sorts of reasons. Fishing line entanglements, collisions with boats, propeller strikes.”
The aquarium’s goal is to release animals back into the wild. But this turtle could not survive that. Its back flippers are used for steering and diving, but its front ones are needed for propulsion. Without its power stroke, the turtle would be vulnerable in the wild.
Sprowl said there is nothing in the tank at Sea Life that is a threat to a turtle.
This turtle may be called Gertrude, but as a juvenile it is too young for the Clearwater team to know if it is male or female.
As an air-breathing reptile, the turtle must surface periodically but visitors can look for it just about anywhere in the 130,000-gallon tank at Sea Life.
“She’s going to hang out in different spots,” said Sprowl. “Turtles are very inquisitive. They like to explore.”