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  Sea Turtle Tours!
Texas Beach Poster
National Bycatch

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National Observer Program
2012 Report

        (click for pdf)

Sea Turtle Tour Q&A

Topic: Galveston Turtle Tours 

Q. How can I schedule a turtle tour?

A. Call 409-766-3500.  These tours are very popular and fill up quickly.  Because of this, we suggest you plan to make your desired reservation several months in advance.  For safety reasons, there is an age restriction for children attending these tours.  Children must be at least 6 years old.  No exceptions.

Q. When are turtle tours given?

A. Every Thursday (excluding Federal holidays) by advance appointment only.

Q. How much are the turtle tours?

A. Tours are FREE to the public.

Q. Where do we go for the tour? 

A. The tour will meet / begin at the main campus. Tour visitors are encouraged to park on the main campus. For directions on how to get to the NMFS Galveston Lab, visit our location page.

Q. Why did the tours end after Hurricane Ike?

A. The tours were initially stopped to clean up after Hurricane Ike. Later, we simply didn't have the staff to conduct the tours. Now, the tours are being conducted by volunteers who have extensive backgrounds related to turtles or marine biology. Since the tours are given by volunteers, we work with their availability.


Q. Are folks restricted from visiting the turtle barn again if they've already been here?

A. No, they just need to be scheduled.

Q. Can we bring cameras and take photos of the turtles?

A. Still photography is allowed.

Q. Are there any weekend tours?

A. No, unfortunately there are no tours on the weekends.

Q. Will we be allowed to hold a turtle?

A. No. Please don't feed the turtles, stick fingers into the tanks or otherwise attempt to lure or manipulate the turtles. They can bite rather effectively.


Topic: Florida Turtle Tours

Q. Does the Florida location host tours for the public when they are doing TED testing?

A. The Lab in Panama City does have an outreach program and they do bring in some groups to see the turtles in the pens. People would have to make arrangements through them at 850-234-6541 x 203

Topic: Social Media

Q. Will the website be updated when the hatchlings arrive and open for viewing at the turtle barn.

A. To be considered.

Q. Folks wanted to know if you ever do any live-streaming (I knew the Flower Banks does) but wasn’t sure if National Fisheries did.

A. To be considered.

Topic: Rehabilitation

Q. What's wrong with the turtles on the west wall next to the big turtle in the tank and why do they have the plastic tubes in the tanks?

A. A turtle with a plastic tube is undergoing treatment for eating and or floating disorders. Sometimes turtles float. It can be caused by gas in the intestines, gas in the body cavity, fluid in the body cavity and even bacterial and fungal infections in the lungs. Treatment for bloating usually involves moving the turtle to a different tank, antibiotics and/or antifungals, warming the water,switching from a pellet food to squid, fish, scallops, or shrimp, and the addition of an object which they can dive down to and hide their head in - a tube works well and we let them keep it like a security blanket throughout their stay at our facility.

Q. What's wrong with the big turtle in the tank to the left as you walk into the turtle barn?

A. It is a 3 year old loggerhead that all of a sudden exhibited signs of a stroke on the right side of its body.  It's right front flipper and right eye were barely functional for many months.  The flipper has recovered and the eye is getting better.  It will probably stay with us for another year until it is all better.  It is the first time we have seen this happen to a turtle.



Topic: Hurricane Ike

Q. What happened to the turtles during / after Ike.

A. The captive turtles were safe and secure inside the turtle barn.  However, a small tornado may have crossed the grounds and destroyed the sea turtle hospital, taking the roof and walls completely off.  Most turtles were still in their tanks, along with glass from light fixtures, fiberglass insulation and wood debris.  Smaller laundry tub sized tanks were damaged from falling debris and some turtles were found on the floor amongst the debris.  

There were ~40 turtles in the hospital at the time and we found all but one hatchling and they were all moved into the Wet lab and turtle barn until a temporary sickbay could be set up in the nesting building.  Many turtles from the hospital were transferred to Sea Turtle, Inc. at South Padre Island.  The sea turtle hospital and storage building was built in 2009 and should be able to withstand hurricanes.

Topic: Turtle Eyes / Ears

Q. Can turtles blink?

A. Yes.


Q. Do turtles move their eyes independently of each other like chameleons do?

A. Not that we're aware of.

Q. Do turtles have ears / eyelashes?

A. No eye lashes but they do have ears. See pages 151-152 [.pdf pages 159-160] of this document:

Q. Do turtles like noise?

A. From what we know, turtles hear low frequency better than high frequency. Loud low frequency noise may startle turtles. We don't know if they like or dislike noise or their full range of hearing. Ashley Lavender just spend 3 years at our Lab studying sea turtle hearing and hopefully her dissertation will shed more light on what turtles can hear and what, if any frequency is bothersome.

Topic: Turtle General

Q. How fast do they swim?

A. We don't know that there is a definitive answer.  Most people would probably guess 20-30 mph but with quick bursts of speed faster than that.  Sea turtles are extremely hydrodynamic.  Just look at the shell - it has a flat bottom and a tall front tapering back to a point at the tail.  The cross section is like that of an airplane wing which creates lift as it moves through water.  The front flippers are the source of thrust [engines] and the rear flippers are the rudders which allow them to move quickly through the water with little effort.

Q. Do jellyfish sting turtles when they eat them? 

A. If they do sting, it doesn't seem to bother the turtles. there is a National Geographic article on the NE Australian cubo-medusae jellyfish from 1994 which is the most venomous animal on the planet. There is a photo of hawksbill turtles eating them like candy, however, recently a sea turtle was bit while eating a blue-ring octopus and the turtle died. So sea turtles must be resistant to the stinging cells of jellyfish, but they are not immune from all neurotoxins.

Q. Do sea turtles recognize their brothers and sisters when they meet in the ocean? 

A. Not likely, they are solitary animals in the wild and the competition for food makes them territorial.

Q. How many years are they fertile?

A. We don't know for sure, probably 25-50 years, maybe more, assuming a life span of 100-150 years.

Q. Why do they have nails on their front flippers?

A. They are claws. Some species have one per flipper, others have 2. The female will use the claws for traction on the beach when she emerges to nest and also to help break up sand as she digs the nest with her rear flippers. The males use the claws for grasping the female during mating.

Q. Which was the first sea turtle in the world?

A. Turtles date back to prehistoric times.


Q. Is the information posted on the Flower Bank website regarding the summer training for teachers/divers provided by NOAA – is this training an annual event – do you have to just be a science teacher?

A. You do NOT have to be a science teacher to participate in any of the Flower Garden Banks NMS education workshops. In fact, you do not have to be a classroom teacher. We welcome all disciplines, all levels of teachers (including program coordinators who will then lead training for other educators or professors who will teach pre-service teachers), and informal educators (e.g. master naturalists, zoo and aquarium educators, after school program leaders, scout leaders).

The Down Under, Out Yonder workshop and scuba expedition is offered every year. It is a competitive application process. Participants are selected based on a one page essay that describes the type of educational activities they do and how they think information about the sanctuary could be incorporated into it.

The Science at Sea workshop has not been funded the last few years, but we are always on the lookout for external funding sources for it. All of our workshops are publicized through our Education List-serve. People can subscribe to it by emailing
We also occasionally conduct teacher in-service workshops for individual school or district training. We don't do a lot of them and they are done on a case-by-case basis, pending staff schedules and program priorities. The more advance notice we have, the better chance we will be able to accommodate such requests. Contact (409-6221-5151 ext. 105) or (409-6221-5151 ext. 105) for more information. 

Topic: Turtle Sleep

Q. If turtles need to breathe at the surface, how do they sleep? How long do they sleep each day?

A. Sometimes they sleep at the surface, breathing through nostrils. Other times they sleep on the bottom, taking naps for as long as they can hold their breath which could be one to several hours.

Q. How do they sleep without breathing?

A. They are used to hold their breath while swimming, diving, feeding, etc., they do the same while sleeping.

Topic: Turtle Releases

Q. When is next years release of turtles?

A.  The anticipated release date for loggerheads is June 30th, 2015.  There will only be one release, offshore of Fort Pierce, FL, aboard a USCG vessel.


Topic: Turtle Mating

Q. Is there a certain month or time of year when sea turtles mate – (they narrowed it down to loggerheads and ridleys)?   Do they go back to the same place and mate each year?

A. February-March for Kemp's ridleys and March-May for loggerheads, with nesting commencing about a month later.  Sea turtles typically mate offshore of the nesting beach, so yes, they go back to the same place and mate each year.

Topic: Turtle Hatchlings

Q. How are the hatchlings reared before Ben and the group choose the ones to bring back?

A. They are not reared before collection. They are excavated from nests that are near to emerging. It can take several days for the hatchlings to travel from the nest cavity to the surface and they will wait just below the surface for the coolness of night to emerge.


Q.How are they maintained between hatching and when they are screened by lab staff?

A. We are in communication with the sea turtle monitoring crew at the base camp in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge months before loggerheads even start nesting. We select the date we wish to collect hatchlings. In fact, the collection date for 2013 is already set as July 28th. The average incubation period is 52 days + or - depending on temperature and rainfall. The sea turtle monitors mark nests 45-60 days before our arrival date so that about 10 nests are emerging at the time we arrive. The sea turtle monitoring program is run by the University of Central Florida. They collect 40-100 hatchlings from 10 different nests and bring them back to the station in Rubbermaid shipping boxes that we have modified and sent them prior to our arrival. We arrive and inspect every hatchling for:

1. 4 good flippers
2. 2 good eyes
3. straight spine
4. straight beak with no crossing or cleft pallet
5. 5 even costal scutes on each side of the carapace
6. average weight
7. average size
8. average color
9. activity level
10. healed umbilical scar
11. minimal folding [the hatchlings are folded up in the eggs and it takes some time for them to completely unfold].

We will go through each nest and sort the hatchlings into a good and bad containers. We then go back to the good containers and compare nest to nest to get average size and the very best hatchlings we can get. 180 to 200 hatchlings are selected [usually >30 and <80 per nest] from about 4-6 nests. The selected hatchlings are placed in Rubbermaid shipping containers, each nest in it's own container, with a piece of wet foam on the bottom. It takes 2 experienced people 3-4 hours to make the hatchling selection. 

The hatchlings which are not selected are placed back in containers and stored in a cool dark closet and released that night [about 3 hours later] into the Atlantic Ocean. The selected hatchlings are placed in a rental van with dual climate control and driven straight back to Galveston. The back of the van with the turtles is maintained at the same temperature of the Atlantic Ocean at the time of collection. It takes 17-19 hours of straight highway driving to return from Melbourne Beach to Galveston where the hatchlings are unloaded and placed directly in water at the NOAA Sea Turtle Facility.

Q. When will the hatchlings arrive in Galveston?

A. If mother nature cooperates, we will collect on July 29 and they will arrive in Galveston late at night on the 30th. We should have them by Aug. 1 at the latest.

Topic: Gulf Species (non-turtle)

Q. Are there whales in the Gulf of Mexico?

A. There are 28 species of whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico; 20 of those species are present year round.

Topic: Flower Garden Banks

Q. How far do you have to dive in the Flower Banks before you start seeing coral formations?

A. The shallowest part of the coral reefs are around 55 - 60 feet deep.  The average dive is typically 70 to 90 ft. A bit more detail: The coral reef cap, as we refer to the shallower part of the sanctuary that is covered by the hermatiypic "hard" coral reef, extends as deep as 140 to 160 feet depending on where you are on the salt dome. 

Recreational dive limit is 130 feet, so the reefs go deeper than a recreational open water scuba certification allows. Safe scuba diving practice says you do your deepest dive of the day first, then get shallower on each subsequent dive (it has to do with nitrogen absorption by your body increasing as the pressure increases the deeper you dive) So the recreational charter operator that goes out to the sanctuary allows divers to go to 130 feet on their first dive if they want. After that, they are required to remain above 100 feet. You really don't need to go deeper than 100' to see everything, and I rarely went deeper than 80' when I was still diving without missing out on anything. But, some people just like to push the limits.

Topic: Education

Q. What type of degree do you need to be able to work with all the “cool” turtles and be part of NOAA.

A. We require at least a 4 year degree in biology and preferably marine or fisheries oriented.  Then you have to be in the right place at the right time as there are only 6 employees who look after the sea turtles.

Topic: Donations

Q. What should we tell folks when they want to donate money?

A. A link has been set up that will send donations directly to sea turtle conservation ("the special fund for the Vet clinic") at the Houston Zoo.  The link is  If anyone needs to call in a donation they can call Renee Bumpus at 713-533-6881 and she will direct the donation to the sea turtle fund.

Topic: Turtle Food

Q. What type of algae do the turtles eat?

A. The general answer is that turtles that are considered "lost year turtles" consume the Sargassum spp. that they are floating in. In Texas our green turtles (>20 cm SCL) predominately consume red algae sp., with monotypic species selection, at the jetty habitat. They will also consume green and brown algae but they have a preference for red. Depends on species and age. Lyndsey has a whole thesis on what species of algae green turtles eat and I'll let her share that with you - that would be the long answer. The short answer is anything that fits in their mouth. Loggerheads, Kemp's ridleys, greens and hawksbills live in a community of sargassum seaweed during their early years. They feed on small organisms that live in and on the seaweed and probably ingest some seaweed both intentionally and accidentally. When green sea turtles move out of the sargassum and closer to shore they feed on algae that grows on rocky structures. Juvenile Kemp's ridleys and loggerheads probably don't consume much algae unless they can't find anything else to eat 

Topic: Turtle Eggs


Q. How long do female turtles lay eggs?

A. Length of time to actually lay eggs on the beach varies with species, from <45 min for a Kemp's ridleys to several hours for larger turtles like greens and leatherbacks. The actual dropping of the eggs doesn't take very long, usually only a few minutes for 100-250, again depending on species. Most of the time on land is occupied by digging the nest. It takes a Kemp's ridleys 10-15 years to reach sexual maturity, and 20-25 years for other species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.

Q. Why do we pack the sand from our beach when we move the eggs if we don’t release them here?   Does it really matter?

A. The sand stabilizes the eggs in the correct position.  It is important that the eggs all touch one another.  The sand also cushions the eggs during transport.  Imprinting likely has nothing to do with the sand, but the sand is free, and it has the correct moisture content as selected by the nesting turtle.