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SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium

23 Tamaki Drive, Ōrākei

Auckland 1071

New Zealand

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Regular days of operation: Thursday - Monday Bookings are essential - purchase your tickets online 24 hours in advance with a discount of 20%!
SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium

Turtle Release

Rescue. Rehabilitate. Release


New Zealand's only Turtle Release Centre

As part of their rehabilitation, rescued turtles make the Turtle Rescue centre at Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium their new home, serving as ambassadors for the marine species.

For the past 20 years, Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Turtle Rehabilitation centre has rehabilitated and released more than 50 turtles and is New Zealand’s only turtle rehabilitation centre. There is now an experienced and dedicated team to care for these amazing creatures. The affectionately known Turtle Rescue Team is made up of SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s, Auckland Zoo and the Department of Conservation with a special mention to Air New Zealand. 

Of the seven marine turtle species, five are found in New Zealand waters and all of them are either endangered or critically endangered. Experiences like Turtle Rescue help educate the broader public on how their behaviour in and around the water can impact local marine life.

Turtles face a number of threats in the wild including boat strikes and accidental plastic ingestion or entanglement. At Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s we aim to educate the public on the threats turtles face and encourage behavioural change by choosing to reuse being mindful of plastic pollution.

Turtle Rescue and Turtle Rehabilitation centre also aims to educate Kiwis on the important story around what type of turtles inhabit our coastlines, why and how they got here and where the turtles go once they are released.

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Sea Life Trust


Our Animals

Flipper tagging

Flipper tagging is by far the most common type of tagging carried out.  With this method, a tag (usually titanium) is attached to the flipper with a unique number which identifies the turtle. SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's has a permit to rehabilitate and release turtles that only allows us to use flipper tags.

The most important thing to remember if you find or catch a tagged turtle is to not remove the tag/s from its flippers! Aside from causing the turtle pain, losing these tags means that the next time this turtle is sighted, we won’t know it’s history and will, therefore, lose a lot of valuable information.

If you do find or catch a tagged turtle, make sure you write down the following information:

  1. Tag number
  2. Date
  3. Location caught
  4. How the turtle was caught
  5. What has happened to the turtle

Satellite tagging is the other type of tagging undertaken but is less common than flipper tagging, mainly due to the high costs involved. Satellite tags are radio transmitters that are attached to the carapace (shell) of the turtle.  A turtle with a satellite tag attached will transmit a signal to satellites orbiting earth within a certain time interval. Information generated from satellite tags includes location, dive time and other parameters.  In all cases, turtles receiving satellite tags also have flipper tags applied as flipper tags will remain longer on a turtle than will the transmitter.

Yes, we sure have! In 2016, SE LIFE Kelly Tarlton's satellite-tagged Nebs.  Nebs was a peculiar case because she’d been rehabilitated and released but washed up again many months later.  We argued that if she washed up a third time we’d need to know where she is to rescue her.  Her release was also done as part of a scientific project by New Zealand’s leading turtle researcher Dan Godoy.  In an,y case where we satellite tag a turtle the request needs to be submitted to Department of Conversation for approval or alternatively Dan Godoy has a special permit so can satellite tag any turtle he likes.

There are mixed views on this.  On the one hand, we know little about turtles in New Zealand waters so it would be advantageous.  On the other hand, no one has set up a research project on this so without a credible project in place some view satellite tagging as exploiting the individual animal.  The question we need to ask ourselves is “what’s the benefit for the individual turtle?”.  If we’re attaching a satellite tag just because we want to know where they go unfortunately that’s not good enough.  There needs to be a scientific benefit.