Explore by Animal
Nickel: Priceless Sea Turtle
Nickel’s first day in the 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef exhibit was pleasantly mundane. She munched on romaine, napped amid the corals and eased right in with hundreds of fishes. Only one thing was askew—her rump rose up as if tied to invisible balloons.
A marine biologist sighted Nickel, a green sea turtle, along Florida’s Gulf coast in 1998. Lean and listless, she couldn’t submerge or paddle her hind feet, and a deep gash—the unmistakable mark of a boat propeller—incised her carapace, or upper shell. Despite months of rehabilitation in Clearwater, she didn’t mend enough to return to the wild, leaving her homeless in the long run.
Lucky for her, timing is everything. A former Shedd volunteer and member of a turtle rescue organization read about the death of Hawkeye, Shedd’s beloved hawksbill turtle of 25 years. The connections were made, and Shedd welcomed the wounded green turtle in spring of 2003.
During a standard physical exam, extensive radiographs intended to resolve the rump riddle instead revealed a coin lodged in Nickel’s esophagus. Using an endoscope with a small retrieval tool, the vets removed a 1975 nickel from her throat. The turtle got a name, and the vets won the daily lottery.
Since Nickel’s injury is close to her spinal cord, the vets think her buoyancy is neurological and therefore permanent. But she doesn’t seem to notice. She can easily descend 13 feet to the exhibit floor, shows a discerning taste for specially prepared “seaweed logs” and nuzzles up to aquarists for “tickle treatments.” This gregarious green turtle enjoys a good scratch and rub on her shell and hind feet.
Nickel is one of only a handful of rehabbed turtles on permanent display in the United States. Between her brush with the boat and the fact that green turtles are threatened, her presence helps Shedd tell an important conservation story. Animals need homes, too, and how we use—or abuse—their homes can have a harmful effect.