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26 Jun 2021

Turtle recovers at SAAMBR after shark attack

Danica Hansen (Berea Mail) Picture: Keena the turtle pictured swimming during rehibilitation.

After a devastating shark attack, a female turtle was brought into the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) at uShaka Marine World.

With no more than stumps left where her front flippers used to be, the turtle has been going through intense rehabilitation.

“When she first came in we were very worried about the amount of blood she had lost and the condition she was in.”

“She was a healthy animal, a female. She had come out of the water at Sodwana Bay to lay eggs. As she was in the breakers, a shark got hold of her flipper. About 10 days later, she tried again to lay her eggs and unfortunately, the shark got her other flipper, I think she was a little bit slower because she was already compromised,” said SAAMBR spokesperson, Ann Kunz.

After stabilising the turtle, affectionately named, Keena, the SAAMBR team managed to bury the turtle’s eggs for her in Sodwana Bay.

Malani Pather sets up a target to train Keena the turtle to retrieve her food.

“She continued to heal and improve. Now she is at the stage where we are doing physiotherapy and rehabilitation with her. We are taking her periodically to the open ocean exhibit. She can drive 4 m. She can manage herself using her hind flippers instead of her front flippers. Usually all their power and movement is driven by their front flippers. Her front flippers are just stumps now, but she is managing to dive and turn around,” said Kunz.

While releasing the turtle into the wild will not be possible, Kunz said the SAAMBR team is thrilled to see her progress.

“She will be in human care for the rest of her life, but her progress had been so good that she will be able to live in the big open ocean exhibit and manage herself.”

“What we are trying to do now is teach her to come to a target that she can recognise for food. When she’s trying to compete with other animals and other turtles, she is a little bit slower and she’s at a bit of a disadvantage, so we want to give her that advantage. We will feed her at a target so we know she has enough and then we will feed the other animals, so we will feed her separately,” explained Kunz.

The team releases the turtle into the bigger swimming space for short periods, before returning her to a smaller pool where the water level can be lowered to allow the sea creature to rest.

“In the beginning she spent much more time resting than swimming. Now she spends more time swimming then needing to rest,” said Kunz.