Meet our New Sea Turtle

(Pittsburgh) (July 2012)—After narrowly escaping possible death from a collision with a boat propeller in June of 2010, a green sea turtle arrived at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to begin long-term care and rehabilitation.

            “Sunburst is lucky to be alive,” says Dwayne Biggs, curator of Aquatic Life at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “She was hit by a boat propeller off the coast of Florida’s George River Inlet. The propeller cut through her top shell causing  a deep gash  as well as creating a severe infection in the bones ofher front right flipper, disabling her ability to move and dive.”

Helpless, Sunburst was floating in the water when an alert boat crew rescued her. She was quickly transported to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island, Georgia, where treatment for her injuries began immediately. Sunburst is receiving her quarantine exam here  at the Animal Care Center at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium after arriving three weeks ago.

“Georgia Sea Turtle Center did an amazing job stabilizing Sunburst and curing her flipper infection.  While many of Sunburst’s injuries have healed she is still being treated for an infection in the deepest part of the boat strike on her back,” says Dr. Ginger Takle, Director of Animal Care at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “The shell is healing nicely and will only need additional topical treatments, but she will have a permanent scar.  However, due to the previous bone infection in the flipper she has severely decreased mobility. We will continue to put Sunburst through physical therapy to try and increase the strength of her front limbs.” Sea turtles’ propulsion is generated by their flippers and enables them to quickly move away from boats, people, and predators.

            Due to the severity of Sunburst’s injuries, she was deemed to be non-releasable. “As partners in the Sea Turtle Second Chance Program, Sunburst came to Pittsburgh because we have the ability and the space to provide the long-term rehabilitation that she needs,” says Biggs. “Because of her flipper injury, Sunburst cannot dive to the necessary depths. Right now, she is swimming in three feet of water. Our goal is to use enrichment opportunities to strengthen her flippers and increase her ability to dive. As she improves, we will gradually introduce her to deeper water.” Keepers will use target training and recall measures so that Sunburst will understand cues for treatments, encounters, and feeding.  

            Sunburst is a green sea turtle, and joins three loggerhead sea turtles currently in the Second Chance program here at Pittsburgh.. She is a herbivore and likes to graze on sea grass and vegetables. Her beak is serrated for tearing apart the lettuce and vegetables that she eats. 

Visitors will be able to see Sunburst in the large tanks near the entrance to PPG Aquarium, joining three other sea turtles that were rescued from the coastal beaches of North Carolina as part of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Second Chance program.



Sea Turtle Information:

  • All seven species of sea turtles are endangered (leatherback, green, loggerhead, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, and flatback).
  • Sunburst is nearly 20 pounds. Green sea turtles are the largest of all hard-shelled sea turtles and can reach 200 to 500 pounds in their lifetime.
  • We believe Sunburst to be around 10 years old, however as she was rescued from the wild this is an estimation.
  • The Sea Turtle Second Chance Program is a conservation/education program dedicated to giving sea turtles a “second chance” at life. We care for rescued sea turtles and hatchlings that may be returned to the wild or will need long-term housing/treatment.  Ultimately, our hope is to bring awareness to sea turtle conservation and ensure their future success.


Pittsburgh Zoo &PPG Aquarium Members receive free admission for an entire year.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is open year round.  For directions, hours, tickets and group sales information, call 412 665-3640. Visit the Zoo’s website at . The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. For more information, visit .