Animal Comedy Newsletter

Tumblr Thread: Cranky, Spoiled And Hilariously Fussy Sea Turtle Constantly Tries To Get Her Favorite Human To Commit Felonies

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    orowyrm Follow one of my favorite things about my job that i can say to people that sounds utterly ridiculous but is technically 100% true is that one of our sea turtles keeps trying to get me to commit a felony on her behalf and gets SUPER cranky when i won't do it

    There is so much that we love about this story, but we think that one of our favorite things is knowing just how much sass there is in this animal. When you think about animals with attitude, you probably think about cats or dogs or maybe parrots, but turtles… never the top of the list. Knowing how sassy they can be is the best news we've heard in- ever. 

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    orowyrm this is because she is spoiled rotten and LOVES head and shell scritches. every time i go to the tank she's in to collect water samples while she happens to be awake and swimming near the surface, she sees my hand enter the water and immediately comes over to try and get my attention, headbutting the dive platform and splashing water at me and generally making a huge fuss.

    Our second favorite thing is that the reason this turtle has so much friggin' sass is just because she wants some love. Ugh. She's precious. Someone must pet her. We don't care who, but someone must, she deserves it. 

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    unfortunately, because she is also a ~100yr old green sea turtle, i legally cannot touch her. she's a protected species, and a fairly prominent individual at that, and im not one of the aquarists who dives into that tank NOR ami a vet, so I'm not among the handful of people who are ALLOWED to give her scratchies. she knows all of the divers personally, and knows that i am not one of them. she doesn't care. she wants attention and because she's the specialest princess in the entire universe she w
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    she also throws a big ol tantrum when i end up not petting her. she'll stick up her head to snort water at me, slap at the platform and ladder with her fins, and then swim under the dive platform and bump her shell against the bottom she's a 500lb turtle, which is a lot of weight for her to be throwing around. i usually have to move pretty quick to get off the platform and onto solid ground cuz there have been times where i've genuinely felt like i was about to lose my balance and REALLY didn't
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    Cheezburger Image 9852597248
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    ^ myrtle, throwing a tantrum because she was unsuccessful at peer pressuring me into violating the endangered species act
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    why-animals-do-the-thing I must, in my capacity as a professional perpetual buzzkill, note that Myrtle is just encouraging the OP to break their facility's rules, not commit Turtle Crimes (TM). As funny as this story is, that's not actually how the Endangered Species Act works with regards to captive animals - and that distinction is surprisingly important for lots of complicated legal and political reasons. More importantly, I am physically incapable of letting any error regarding federal wildl
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    (As always, I must emphasize up front - this is not shade on the OP or their facility. This is complicated, and it's easy for information to get misconstrued or misremembered. I'm just here to teach!)
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    So, a quick ESA overview. The law protects species that have gone through a bureaucratic process and been officially listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (this is different than a species' IUCN Red List status, which is a scale from Least Concern to Critically Endangered). The law prevents anyone from "taking" a listed species. "Take" or the act of "taking" is defined by USFWS as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to e
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    Enough definitions, the turtles are glaring at us ominously from their tanks. So, if you went to go scritch a wild sea turtle? Absolutely an ESA violation. All six species of sea turtles found worldwide are listed as endangered in the United States (the seventh species is also endangered, but only found in Australia). However, scritching said sea turtle wouldn't be a felony. Intentional taking of an endangered animal is a Class A misdemeanor - and while that might sound "better", it can still re
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    Where this gets interesting, though, is when endangered species are in captive settings. USFWS has formally acknowledged that managing animals in human care could run into issues under the harassment statute, since it "disrupts normal behavior." Y'know, because sometimes you have to restrict food or movement or bother an animal for veterinary care. They've solved this problem by adding what is often unofficially called a "captive take provision" to the definition of harassment:
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    "When applied to captive wildlife, [harassment] does not include generally accepted: (1) Animal husbandry practices that meet or exceed the minimum standards for facilities and care under the Animal Welfare Act, (2) Breeding procedures, or (3) Provisions of veterinary care for confining, tranquilizing, or anesthetizing, when such practices, procedures, or provisions are not likely to result in injury to the wildlife."
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    What that means, practically, is that just touching endangered animals isn't inherently a violation of the ESA. As long as it's done in a manner that USDA deems appropriate and is part of normal animal care practices, it's okay. The ESA and related regulations don't go into detail on who's allowed to do what: they're broad rules and facilities are expected to understand what constitutes compliance. From a practical point of view, facility staff need to be able to touch endangered animals in thei
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    I originally wondered if maybe there were other strictures on captive sea turtles that might have been conflated with the Endangered Species Act here. All non-releasable sea turtles that live in captivity are under the jurisdiction of USFWS in perpetuity, and it turns out there are some additional rules; facilities are prohibited from letting visitors touch them, for one. But that only applies to guests, not staff, and also? Myrtle isn't actually subject to those rules! She's thought to be somew
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    What does this mean? Can the OP, in good faith, now commit what is no longer considered to be turtle crimes? Sadly, no. There are still lots of good reasons that the OP is making the right choice by not giving Myrtle the shell scratches she so clearly demands.
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    First off, it's clearly against facility rules. The OP notes that they're not allowed to have contact with her because they're not an aquarist who works on that habitat, a vet, or a tank diver (all people who are allowed). One of the biggest rules of working at an animal facility? Thou shalt not touch animals without permission. Even if you work with other animals. Even if you've been trained on that animal previously. Touching animals without permission can quite literally be enough to get you
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    So aside from the professionalism aspect, other reasons to no touchy the turtle include her hurting the OP, the OP impacting her health, and of course the possibility of the OP falling into the tank. Older green sea turtles are huge and their beaks can do pretty serious damage. They stated Myrtle is able to shake the dive platform pretty substantially when she bumps it, so if you're leaning out over the edge to reach her... it's an awkward way to take a swim (and lose a job).
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    The OP also made a really good point in a subsequent reblog: when you're on public view in an aquarium or zoo, your actions are constantly observed and the example they set matters. Humans are super visual creatures, and no matter how many times you say "don't go bother endangered species," if they see people randomly petting the sea turtle, they're going to walk away with the impression it's okay to do. Zookeepers and aquarists constantly have to think about what example they're setting for gue
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    Now, I don't know exactly why the OP has been told it's illegal to touch Myrtle. I don't know if someone misspoke or if there's an error in training materials, or what. That's okay! It helps reinforce a protocol that's appropriate for many other reasons. And, again, not a ton of non-management folk are familiar with the intricacies of the ESA, because it's not stuff they need to know to do their jobs. I broke it all down because the post is really popular, I have a deep and unabiding need to att
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    orowyrm very good info and all very cool!!! i hadn't intended for this post to blow up in the slightest LMAO so i didn't do any actual digging to confirm if what i'd assumed about turtle law was true . foolish of me to assume the sheer power of myrtle wouldn't cause this post to breach containment
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    i dont think i've ever actually had someone else who works here outright tell me 'don't do that it's illegal' so much as it is that i spent a year on the visitor-facing end of operations before i started working behind the scenes, and thus spent 90% of that time drilling into everyone's heads Not To Bother Wildlife For The Love Of All That's Holy so it's just sorta cemented itself into my brain as such because my immediate reaction to being asked "haha what happens if i jump over the edge and in


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