Downtown San Antonio’s greenest resident is unique. She eats mostly salads, spends her days poolside and can hold her breath for hours at a time.
And while she doesn’t have a name yet, she’s already making an impression in her new home.
Sea Life San Antonio, a commercial aquarium that opened at The Shops at Rivercenter in May of last year, welcomed the rescued, rehabilitated green sea turtle earlier this year. Since then, she’s been getting to know her caretakers and the assortment of sea creatures she will live with in a 200,000 gallon tank.
On March 1, she will make her public debut at the aquarium. She also will be christened with a name chosen from online submissions via the aquarium’s website.
Unable to live in the wild after she was struck by a boat in 2014 that cracked her shell, the turtle has what The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, calls “bubble butt syndrome” — a condition in which air is trapped in the shell, causing the turtle to float.
Weighing in at roughly 26 pounds, the 23-year-old sea turtle is the first of her kind at the downtown San Antonio aquarium, which is part of a global chain of aquariums owned by Merlin Entertainment, which also owns Legoland Parks and other attractions.
She was discovered off the coast of Texas by Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) rescuers during a “cold stunning” event in 2014, said Chase Hathaway, Sea Life San Antonio marketing manager.
These events occur when unusual cold snaps hit Texas. Turtles in nearby waters can become hypothermic — as cold-blooded animals, they cannot easily regulate their own body temperatures and become too stunned to move during these events.
While stunned, they often float to the top of the water, where they are more vulnerable to predators and other dangers such as boats. It’s believed the aquarium’s turtle may have been struck by a boat during a similar event earlier in the season, Sea Life San Antonio curator Nick Ireland said.
After securing the permits required to care for a green sea turtle, Sea Life San Antonio reached out to several Texas marine rescue organizations, asking if any of them had a green sea turtle that needed housing, Hathaway said. ARK was quick to respond that it indeed had such a turtle, he said.
While the turtle’s back legs don’t work very well — likely the result of the boat accident — she can still dive down and swim around pretty easily, Hathaway said, and she enjoys foraging for food, an activity that the aquarium staff has made into a game for her. Her diet is mostly fresh lettuce, green peppers and an occasional piece of fresh fish, he said.
Inside the aquarium’s main tank, she will spend her days swimming among sharks, stingrays, a wide assortment of fish and a 15-foot-tall pirate statue, said Hathway, where she will be “the star of the show.”
Sea turtles aren’t really social creatures, as they spend their days grazing sea grass, but Sea Life San Antonio may someday get a second sea turtle, Hathaway added.
“For now, we’re really excited to get her into the main tank,” he said. “We’ve let her go in there a few times to kind of test it out, but this will be her new home soon.”