Playtime For Lulu

Displays staff at Brighton Sea Life Centre have come up with a beautifully simple solution to the problem of keeping their giant green sea turtle from getting bored!

They climb into her tank with a few of her favourite veggie treats and have a game of tag - using the contact as an opportunity to give the 71 year old a good scrub to clean off any algae (a job that would be done by other fish in the wild!)

Having experimented with countless behavioural enrichment techniques staff have finally realised that it’s close-up interaction with humans that Lulu the 71-year-old turtle really craves

“She’s spent almost her whole life in captivity after originally being brought into the country to star in a TV ad’ and has clearly seen far more people than other turtles,” said Curator Alex Gerard.

“We’ve tried lots of techniques to keep her alert and healthy, ranging from special food dispensers to towing her meals round the tank on the end of a pole, but each one has only worked for a limited time.

“On those odd occasions when we’ve had divers in the tank for maintenance work, though, she’s always been straight over to greet them and stuck close virtually the whole time they’ve been in.”

So shortly before Christmas Alex and his team started delivering her meals in the water.

“We vary the frequency and the timing but at least once a week a couple of us will don dry suits and spend between 15 and 30 minutes in the water, letting Lulu chase us round the tank and occasionally rewarding her with a piece of cabbage, lettuce or broccoli. One of us does the feeding, while the other cleans between the plates of her shell"

“She really loves it,” he added. “She never knows when to expect us, but always charges over the instant we climb in and seems to really have fun. “It’s also terrific fun for the staff members too, and there’s generally competition for that particular duty.”

In stark contrast, the other elderly turtle in the tank, loggerhead turtle Jersey, shows no interest in the visitors at all.

“Jersey’s behaviour is much more like a wild loggerhead. She feeds when she’s hungry, sleeps when she’s tired and is most active at night or when there are fewest people in the Centre.

“She was found on the island of Jersey when just a few years old and has been in aquariums for nearly sixty years, but unlike Lulu she seems to keep herself fit and healthy without our intervention.”

On the day Heart visited, Adam Foster had the cleaning job - hear our interview with him.