In some ways, sea turtles are more like your pet dog than you’d think. Both are intelligent and both will work for treats.
The ABQ BioPark Aquarium has two sea turtles—outgoing Jimmy, a male hawksbill sea turtle, and shyer Mimi, a female loggerhead turtle. Both are rescues.
Jimmy is a carefree soul. He likes to hang out with the divers and is very social—sometimes he even lands on their swim fins.
Mimi is a bit more timid. Sometimes she’ll interact with divers, but occasionally she likes to be left alone. She enjoys a good neck scratch from time to time, however, and even has a ticklish spot on her neck—if you hit her tickle zone she withdraws her head back into her shell momentarily.
To keep the turtles mentally agile, the divers perform two types of turtle training in the tank—visual and audible.
Both Mimi and Jimmy respond to target training. BioPark staff use positive reinforcement to teach the turtles, rewarding positive behaviors and ignoring negative behaviors.
In order to get their favorite stuffed squid treats, the turtles must touch a target—Jimmy touches a yellow triangle and Mimi touches a blue circle. Jimmy also responds to a bell—when he hears it ring, this is his cue to swim to staff and start his daily target training.
By utilizing Jimmy’s target training skills, aquarists can easily coax him to the deck area above the ocean tank to eat. This skill is advantageous on days when divers are unable to enter the tank to hand feed animals.
In addition to squid, Mimi and Jimmy chomp on the occasional capelin treat.