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McNubbins calls our Zoo home for now as this sea turtle is not releasable.

Our Sea Turtle Healing Center’s goal is to return our injured or ill patients back to the water. For some of our patients, however, this isn’t possible. Even if they’re back to sea turtle health, the effects of their injuries may prevent them from being able to deal with the dangers of their natural range. We have such a patient at our Healing Center right now: McNubbins the juvenile green sea turtle.

A green sea turtle on a scale

A photo of McNubbins when they were first brough t to the Sea Turtle Healing Center.

McNubbins arrived at the Healing Center in October 2021. In addition to being a little anemic, McNubbins was missing all their left front flipper and most of their right front flipper, two injuries that were likely caused by predators.

We take the possibility of a sea turtle patient being nonreleasable very seriously, and only make this call if the patient is unable to deal with the hazards of ocean life or unable to act on their natural behaviors. For McNubbins, we were concerned that they couldn’t outrun or dive from predators or boats, deal with rough ocean conditions or nest properly if they were female.

First up, we needed to get this turtle back to health. Our Sea Turtle Healing Center care team strives to think of outside of the box treatments or therapies to give every patient the chance to heal and thrive. For McNubbins, we helped them recover from their anemia – their issue wasn’t being ill, but instead having such severe injuries to their front flippers.

Once McNubbins was back to overall health, we sent them to the Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center for a deep-water trial. In this test, sea turtles are given access to an 11-foot-deep pool. Staff at the aquarium write detailed logs on how each turtle swims. This gives our care team more insight into how a sea turtle would handle being in the ocean. If they can’t dive quickly, this might mean that they are vulnerable to boats or predators.

McNubbins did well in their test, but our team wanted to gather more information on this turtle. Learning McNubbins’ sex would give us even more insight into how they would fare in their natural range. Female sea turtles use their front flippers to pull themselves onto the beach to build their nest and lay eggs. The severity of their injuries might make this natural behavior impossible for McNubbins if they were female.

McNubbins has started training to move toward and touch a target when asked by Healing Center staff! This will help give the sea turtle a say in their care.

There’s a reason we use the pronoun “they” for most of our sea turtle patients. Their genitalia are internal, so the only way to learn a sea turtle’s sex is through an invasive endoscope procedure. We only undertake this if it’s medically necessary. Through this procedure, we discovered that McNubbins is female.

With all of the information we compiled, we decided to move forward with listing McNubbins as nonrelaseable and begin the process of finding her a home. Our care team has been in contact with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about placing McNubbins at an aquarium or zoo. Because sea turtles are endangered, their placement in human care is carefully monitored.

While we don’t know where McNubbins will eventually call home, we will of course make her time with us as enriching and beneficial as possible!

Have you found a sea turtle that needs help? Visit this page or call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.

Want to help the Sea Turtle Healing Center? Support our Zoo, or view our Healing Center’s wishlist.