Turtle Tales: Birch Aquarium series explores turtles in La Jolla


Q: Are turtles found in every ocean? A: No, they’re not in the Arctic Ocean.

Q: How are turtles like trees? A: Turtle bones produce rings that provide clues to their age, just like a tree.

Ahhh. For answers to other turtle questions and in honor of Birch Aquarium’s newest resident, a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the monthly SEA Days programming will lend scientific insight to all things turtle.

Programs are included with aquarium admission and take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the third Saturday of each month. On March 21, scientists who monitor the daily habits of turtles will discuss “Turtle Tracking.” On April 18, a researcher who assesses the populations of turtles in oceans across the globe (except the Arctic) will talk about how they manage in “Traveling with Turtles.” On May 16, “Turtle Detectives” will show how turtle bones produce rings that offer hints to their age, size and diet. The turtle theme celebrates a rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle that made Birch its home in November 2014.

Aquarium interim director Debbie Zmarzly said after being found in the cooling canal of a power plant in New Jersey, the juvenile turtle (thought to be about 15 years old) went to “turtle rehab” for care.

“During the course of its rehabilitation, it was discovered that it had paralysis in its hind flippers. It was deemed not releasable to the wild, because it wouldn’t survive. So it was transferred to the care of the South Carolina Aquarium, which started seeking a permanent home for it,” she said. It’s unknown whether the turtle is male or female, as sex is determined by tail length, and the tail must get longer before Birch scientists can confirm. A Loggerhead turtle’s average lifespan is 50 years.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles are one of the most traveled of all marine turtles. Pacific Loggerheads migrate more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Loggerheads have been found in the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve off La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores.

Their Latin name is Caretta caretta, Zmarzly said, which is the name this one goes by at the aquarium. The largest hard- shell turtle, Caretta caretta’s identifying features include large jaws and head, reddish- brown top shell, and yellow bottom shell.


In addition to the April SEA Days program, Birch has two other programs planned.

■ “Exploring Ocean STEM Careers” is set for April 14 for students in grades 6-12. “We knew there was a big demand from the community for middle- and high-schoolers to understand the types of careers available in ocean sciences. We bring in 15-20 scientists and UCSD grad students for a festival-style presentation.” Last year’s program reached 200 students with one-on-one interactions, speakers, a Q&A panel and take-home materials. The cost is $10 for aquarium members, $12 general. RSVP: or (858) 534-5771.

■ For a more immersive experience, “SpringFest” will return April 19. Zmarzly said it is a longtime collaboration between Birch Aquarium and the UCSD Music Department. “The students come down and create a musical piece inspired by some ocean animal or ecosystems and their pieces are either recorded and played or performed live,” she said, finding the works inspired by the jellyfish exhibit to be most intriguing. Tickets $8 for aquarium members, $10 general. RSVP: (858) 534-5771 or

BIRCH AQUARIUM at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Address: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Admission: $17, free for ages 2 and younger and Aquarium members, $12.50 ages 3-12, $13 ages 60-plus

Phone: (858) 534-3474