A Touching Moment at Newport Aquarium’s Turtle Canyon

The Turtle Corral at Turtle Canyon

The Turtle Corral at Turtle Canyon

In case you did not hear the big news, Newport Aquarium’s newest exhibit Turtle Canyon opened to the public on Saturday, March 22!

In addition to Bravo, a 650-pound Galapagos tortoise and the Midwest’s largest turtle, and Thunder, a 118-pound and over 100-year-old alligator snapping turtle, one of the most distinctive features of Turtle Canyon is its Turtle Corral.

The Turtle Corral offers guests the unique opportunity to get up close and personal by touching a variety of turtles. On any given day, up to five species of turtles at a time can be found at the Turtle Corral.

Turtle Corral Touch Experience

The turtle species featured in the corral are:
African Spur Thigh tortoise – The third largest tortoise species in the world.
Gopher tortoise – A Flagship species for conservation and preservation of Longleaf Pine habitat in the Southeastern United States … one of four native tortoises to live in North America.
Leopard tortoise – The Leopard Tortoise is the fourth largest of the tortoise species and is considered vulnerable in parts of Central and South Africa due to consumption by the locals.
Red-footed tortoise – Medium-sized tortoise whose natural habitat ranges from Savannah to forest-edges around the Amazon Basin.
Yellow-footed tortoise – The third-largest mainland tortoise species, also found in the Amazon Basin of South America.

Red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoise

Don’t worry; we don’t have the same turtles in the corral every day. To ensure the turtles receive time away from the exhibit, a group of over 20 turtles are in the Turtle Corral rotation. This means guests can conceivably see different turtles at the corral practically every time they visit!

Like Newport Aquarium’s Shark Central and Shore Gallery touch experiences, guests are encouraged to employ the two-finger touch technique at the Turtle Corral.


Two-finger touch technique

For the safety and well-being of both guests and turtles, the following rules have been established for Turtle Corral:

  1. Guests should only touch the turtles on their shells.
  2. Guest should refrain from touching a turtle’s legs, tail and/or head.
  3. Guests should never pick up or move a turtle.
  4. If a turtle is out of reach, it should not be picked up and moved. Please allow the turtle to have some “Time Out” time.
  5. Guests are strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer before and after they are finished touching the turtles. Hand sanitizer is located all throughout Turtle Canyon, as well as the rest of the aquarium.

For guests with questions about the Turtle Corral, a trusty Newport Aquarium Animal Experience Specialist will be stationed nearby to answer them.


We hope those who visit Turtle Canyon and experience the Turtle Corral come away with a greater understanding and appreciation for turtles of all species, which totals over 200 in the world.

Visit Newport Aquarium’s official blog – aquariumworks.org – to read #TurtleTuesday updates.

Alligator Snapping Turtle Thunder is a Newport Aquarium Mainstay

At more than 100 years old,  Thunder the alligator snapping turtle is the oldest animal at Newport Aquarium.

At more than 100 years old, Thunder the alligator snapping turtle is the oldest animal at Newport Aquarium.

If you came to Newport Aquarium when it opened to the public May 15, 1999, chances are you got to see our large alligator snapping turtle, graciously named Thunder.

If you’ve been to Newport Aquarium recently, chances are you’ve also spotted Thunder.

At more than 100 years old, not only is Thunder the oldest animal at Newport Aquarium, he’s also one of the original animals to go on display when we first opened.

Since the aquarium opened, Thunder has been in a tank near the Gator Alley exhibit. That is up until last week, when he was moved to the “Temple tank” at the new Turtle Canyon exhibit, which opens to the public March 22.

Alligator snapping turtles are one of the largest turtle species in North America. Across the U.S., populations of turtle species – including alligator snapping turtles – face a variety of environmental issues including water quality, habitat loss or degradation and hunting.

Saved from a butcher’s block, Thunder was rescued from a Louisiana market because of his large size. He moved to a turtle farm in Missouri before calling Newport Aquarium his home.

Due to both these natural and synthetic factors, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists alligator snapping turtles as an endangered species. These factors are also why it’s rare to see an alligator snapping turtle the size of Thunder in the wild.


Thunder, like other alligator snapping turtles, is an ambush predator and prefers to hide and wait for his food to swim by. Then – SNAP – he catches it by surprise.

Newport Aquarium biologists describe Thunder as a picky eater, especially when it comes to mackerel. He gets fed roughly twice per week, but can go weeks without eating due to the low amount of calories needed.

Often you can find smaller fish swimming in the tank with Thunder as he awaits for a larger, more appetizing meal. If fish enter his tank small and grow to be medium-to-large sized, Thunder probably will not try to eat them. However, if you were to throw in a large bass into his tank, after an about hour chances are Thunder has taken a bite out of it.

One of the unique personality traits of Thunder is his penchant to practice yoga in the mornings; keepers often spot him stretching out his limbs first thing in the a.m.

Visit Newport Aquarium’s official blog – aquariumworks.org – to read #TurtleTuesday updates.

The Boss of the Shark Tank, Denver Serves as Rehab Ambassador to Newport Aquarium

For the past 10 years, Newport Aquarium has participated in the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project, which gives newly hatched sea turtles a head start by fostering them for one year before releasing them back into the wild. The program increases their chances of survival as only one in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood. Tilly is the baby sea turtle Newport Aquarium will foster this year; her progress is well documented on this blog.

In the same animal family as Tilly is Denver, the nearly 200-pound loggerhead sea turtle and one of the most recognizable animals at Newport Aquarium. Denver is not a candidate for release back into the wild because of an injury suffered when he was a hatchling. One of his back flippers is smaller than the other because part of it was bitten off by a fellow hatchling. Additionally, upon his arrival at Newport Aquarium, Denver had to be treated for an air pocket that was caught under his shell, which trapped air and made it difficult for him to properly swim and dive.

Denver gets fed 5-6 pounds of fish/squid every day.

Denver gets fed 5-6 pounds of fish/squid every day.

Now vigorously roaming the waters of the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit for nearly the past 12 years, Denver serves as an ambassador to Newport Aquarium’s animal rehab and conservation efforts. He is widely considered the “boss” of the 385,000-gallon tank as his neighbors – four shark rays, tiger sharks, zebra sharks, stingrays and nearly 300 fish – yield to him when crossing paths.

Denver, who is approximately 19 years old, was aptly named because in the fall of 2002 he came to Newport Aquarium from Denver Aquarium.

With a shell currently measuring approximately three feet in length and approaching 200 pounds, Denver weighed close to 145 pounds and was half the size he is now when he moved to Northern Kentucky.

Denver swimming in the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

Denver swimming in the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

The average weight of an adult loggerhead hovers around 250 pounds, however Newport Aquarium biologists believe Denver will remain closer to the 200-pound mark because of his diet, which consists of 5-6 pounds of fish and/or squid each day.

Three of the largest turtle species in the world will be on display at Newport Aquarium when the new Turtle Canyon exhibit opens March 22, 2014: Denver; Bravo, a more than 600-pound, 84-year-old Galapagos tortoise and the largest turtle in the Midwest; and Thunder, a 118-pound alligator snapping turtle.

Visit Newport Aquarium’s official blog – aquariumworks.org – to read #TurtleTuesday updates.