Wonders of Wildlife’s Sea Turtle Center again hosts endangered sea turtles in life-saving rehabilitation efforts

Published February 6, 2024

A WOW staff member conducts a thorough wellness check upon a Kemp’s ridley turtle upon arrival.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium (WOW) welcomed its fourth group of critically ill loggerhead sea turtles, in addition to its first group of green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, with careful plans in place to rehabilitate and release them back into the wild.

The 16 cold-stunned turtles arrived on Thursday, Jan. 25, by private aircraft on a rescue flight coordinated by the nonprofit organization Turtles Fly Too, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the New England Aquarium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The rescued sea turtles flew from the New England Aquarium in Boston, Mass. to Springfield, Mo., where they were met by an expert animal care team from WOW and transported to the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Center. This marks the fourth consecutive year WOW has participated in sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts – an honor that means a great deal to the organization.

“Johnny Morris founded Wonders of Wildlife in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, to inspire Midwestern kids and families to care about conserving wildlife around the world, and rescuing these sea turtles is a great example of his conservation vision in action,” said Bob Ziehmer, Senior Director of Conservation at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. “The expert team at Wonders of Wildlife will provide the turtles with incredible care – and plenty of genuine Ozarks hospitality – throughout their stay and recovery.”

The sea turtles washed up on the New England coast after experiencing “cold-stunning,” a condition that occurs when a rapid decline in water temperatures affects the sea turtles’ internal body temperature. Because sea turtles are ectothermic, they depend on their surroundings to regulate their body temperature. This dramatic drop in temperature causes them to suffer life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia, hypothermia and dehydration. These conditions leave turtles extremely vulnerable and unable to protect themselves. During this season alone, the Northeast has already seen over 200 cold-stunned turtles – all requiring intervention and medical care. 

Named America’s Best Aquarium by the readers of USA Today for an unprecedented fifth time in 2023 and accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), Wonders of Wildlife will provide the loggerheads, green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles with quality medical care and long-term rehabilitation before releasing them back into their natural habitat.

It takes a village to care for the sea turtles

WOW’s specialized Life Sciences and Veterinary teams immediately begin their work by developing a care and treatment plan customized for each turtle based on their individual needs. Each animal is monitored around the clock and carefully fed, measured and assessed. Key components of the recovery process include gradually increasing the turtles’ body temperature and ensuring they can eat and swim normallyCare is administered with the goal that each of the sea turtles will make a full recovery.

This is the first time green sea turtles and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have been a part of the rescue and rehabilitation program at WOW, furthering the museum and aquarium’s commitment to conservation and the rehabilitation of endangered species. Wonders of Wildlife and other Johnny Morris Foundation conservation properties have a long history of being a champion for conservation.

“The WOW team has gained an extensive amount of sea turtle rehabilitation knowledge and ability,” said Mike Daniel, Director of Animal Care at Wonders of Wildlife. “We have helped to save 36 cold-stunned loggerhead sea turtles over the last three years and every year we see the process become more streamlined. Being able to include aid from every part of the WOW team, including our amazing volunteers, has helped to develop extensive institutional knowledge in this field.”

Due to their larger size, loggerheads are more difficult to place in rehabilitation facilities. WOW is one of the few facilities that has enough space to care for them – and the only rescue, rehabilitation and release center in the Midwest. This allows WOW to educate guests on these endangered animals and the importance of protecting them. As a result of their fragile condition, the 16 rescued sea turtles are not accessible to the public; however, guests can visit WOW’s two resident green sea turtles, Izzy and Ms. Pam, in the Open Ocean exhibit.

The journey continues beyond release

Typically, the turtles will be released back to the ocean after about a 12-week rehabilitation process. With the complexity of their life cycle, only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings who make it to the ocean will survive to adulthood. It is vital to the future of their species to return as many sea turtles as possible back to the wild population. They are an essential part of marine ecosystems worldwide and are at great risk due to water temperature changes, commercial fishing practices and other environmental factors. 

Something new to WOW’s Sea Turtle Center is the use of state-of-the-art satellite tracking tags – a new project made possible by Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund. Before their release, two of the center’s sea turtles will be tagged, allowing WOW and their guests to observe individual data of each turtle such as their temperature, depth, dive profiles, migration routes, and swim speed. By sharing this invaluable information with researchers and other institutions around the world, WOW’s goal is to inform and engage communities with wildlife conservation.

“WOW is developing a plan to monitor these turtles once they are released to better understand why they are stranding and how we can help to improve their chances of survival,” Daniel said. “Sharing the story of this amazing team has given us the opportunity to encourage conservation with a wide audience while also teaching folks about sea turtles.”

Local partnership brews conservation efforts 

WOW has partnered with local Springfield brewery, Mother’s Brewing Company, to create a lager that benefits conservation efforts and to generate further awareness for endangered sea turtle populations. Izzy Lager—proudly named after one of WOW’s green sea turtles who suffered injuries in the wild and has been rehabilitated at the aquarium. Proceeds from the exclusive brew will be donated to conservation efforts and is available for purchase at the following properties: 

  • Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium
  • Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
  • Top of the Rock’s Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail
  • Mother’s Brewing Company
  • Big Cedar Lodge
  • Finley Farms
  • Hemingway’s Blue Water Café
  • White River Fish House

Wonders of Wildlife’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Program is made possible through a generous grant from the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund. Guided by the visionary leadership of Bass Pro founder and noted conservationist Johnny Morris, the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund has created an unprecedented alliance of over 200 million passionate customers, team members, industry partners and leading conservation organizations to make a significant impact in our communities and the future of the outdoors.

To thank the community for its support of Wonders of Wildlife and its conservation initiatives, each of the turtles this year will be named after local Missouri colleges. For more information and to keep updated on the 16 sea turtles, visit www.wondersofwildlife.org/sea-turtles


About Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium consists of an all-new 1.5-million gallon Aquarium Adventure showcasing 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, and immersive Wildlife Galleries that bring visitors eye-to-eye with the greatest collection of record-setting game animals ever assembled. Created by noted conservationist and Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, the 350,000-square-foot experience celebrates those who hunt, fish, and act as stewards of the land and water. Located next to Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, the campus is a centerpiece of America’s Conservation Capital in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. Wonders of Wildlife has been voted “Best New Attraction in America” and “America’s Best Aquarium” an unprecedented five times by the readers of USA TODAY, and in 2022 received its AZA accreditation. For more information, visit www.wondersofwildlife.org.