Kai is a juvenile loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) currently undergoing rehabilitation in the captivating I&J Ocean Exhibit. While some may recognise Kai by his captivating eyes and striking colouration, Kai is a bit shyer than his fellow turtle counterparts and tends to spend a significant amount of time in his cosy cave at the far end of the exhibit.

Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

According to Laura du Toit, content marketing coordinator at Two Oceans Aquarium, Kai’s rehabilitation journey at the Foundation’s Turtle Conservation Centre has been quite extensive. Initially rescued as a tiny hatchling in October 2020, he reportedly weighed merely 100g and fit comfortably in the palm of a hand. Over time and with dedicated care, he has grown remarkably, now tipping the scales at around 30kg.

Upon arrival, the turtle team noticed a peculiar issue with Kai: he was extremely buoyant on his right side, almost vertically oriented in the water. Concerned about his well-being, the Two Oceans’ veterinary team employed advanced diagnostic imaging techniques like X-ray, CT and MRI scans.

Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

These tests unveiled the root cause of his problems: Kai had disproportionate lung lobes, and a severe infection had taken hold in his left lung. To treat the infection, a bronchoalveolar lavage procedure was performed, involving the insertion of a bronchoscope into his lung airway to collect a fluid sample for testing.

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With meticulous care, time and patience, Kai made a significant recovery. However, despite the progress, his left lung remained smaller than the right, leading to an unbalanced and stressed state. To address this, the ingenious turtle team devised ballast weights made of steel putty, which were strategically placed on his shell. Alongside this, Kai received pulmonary physiotherapy and engaged in swimming exercises to improve his fitness.

Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

These efforts proved successful, and in March 2023, Kai was finally introduced to the I&J Ocean Exhibit, much to the delight of all involved.

Recently, Kai’s buoyancy has experienced instability, necessitating further measures. To rebalance him, the team decided to add some weights to his right side. For this task, they enlisted the expertise of Isay Acenas from OceanHub Africa, one of the Turtle Conservation Centre’s esteemed partners.

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This time, the turtle team opted for a different approach, using epoxy and anchor points to attach a small, upcycled scuba weight to Kai’s shell. This adjustable weight minimises handling and stress, ensuring Kai’s comfort during the process.

Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

In the upcoming weeks, the Turtle Conservation Centre team will closely monitor Kai’s swimming patterns and the impact of the added weight on his buoyancy. The purpose of this weight addition is to relieve the pressure on Kai’s right lung, allowing both lungs time to stabilise. The team will fine-tune the weights as needed, making sure Kai gets the best possible care.

For visitors to the I&J Ocean Exhibit, keep an eye out for changes in Kai’s added weight over the next few months. In the meantime, we remain hopeful that with his newfound strength and determination, Kai will eventually achieve balance without additional assistance.

Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

This represents the next vital step in Kai’s rehabilitation, enabling him to grow stronger and healthier.

The turtle team can only hope that Kai’s fellow turtle friends, Nobomvu and Bheni, won’t be too envious of his new ‘bling.’

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Picture: Two Oceans Aquarium

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