Saturday, November 9, 2013

Loggerhead sea turtle training/feeding

This video shows the new turtle learning to feed in her new enclosure at the VLM

Before a new sea turtle is introduced into our Chesapeake Bay Aquarium, we must first ensure (among many other things) that it will be able to acquire food regularly and be accessible to staff. The most common practice is to "target train" them or condition them to associate visual - and often audible - stimuli with food. Fortunately, NC Aquarium had already begun process of training our current turtle to feed regularly from tongs. However, new surroundings have required our new turtle to learn a new routine and feeding schedule before it can safely go into CBA. We began by simply acclimating the turtle to a regular daily feeding at 2 pm daily; this coincides with the time it would be fed when in CBA. As the turtle has become accustomed to staff and its new schedule, we have introduced the visual stimuli - simply a blue Kydex disc on an algae scraper - at each feeding. The new turtle has slowly become accustomed to seeing the target and has begun to equate the presence of the strange blue disc with the magical appearance of food. Eventually, 2 pm = feeding time, target = location of food and we all settle into an efficient and reliable routine.

 A small hand target is placed in the water prior during each feeding
 A sampling of natural foods that the sea turtle gets along with commercial gel diet and supplements
 The new turtle comes up to check out the target prior

One more side note: I like to introduce fishes in the turtle's enclosure as early as possible. First and foremost, the turtle will be amongst much larger fishes in CBA and its beneficial to get it accustomed to the distractions of many fishes. Secondly, the fishes often attempt to steal food from the turtle, as they will on exhibit, so the turtle will begin to actively compete for food and not be startled when it is placed in CBA. And lastly, it gives us a good indicator of the turtle's personality and aggressiveness - or lack thereof.