Florida on a Tankful: Mote Marine's hatchling hospital

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017, 6:47 AM EDT

Hunter Forbes is a busy 4 year old.

"One, two, three, four …” he counts aloud.

Hunter loves reptiles, even if inspecting the teeth on his plastic alligator.

... eight, nine, 10!" He finishes with an exclamation.

The youngster from Scotland had to stop at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium when visiting Florida to see otters, turtles and his favorite.

"Salt water crocodile,” Hunter says with a degree of seriousness.

The Mote is legendary for researching and rescuing marine creatures, while educating folks about the creatures living off our coastline.

"We start to see the decline in the number of nests coming out in September and October,” said Lauren Miller, an aquarium biologist.  She says the after Labor Day arrival of Hurricane Irma did sea turtle nests a small favor, as many nests had already hatched out for 2017.

In Lauren’s care this autumn, two sea turtles named "Lightning Bug" and "Mantis."

"They have different flipper issues,” Lauren shared. “Sometimes in the nest, they will become tangled in roots or different things that are found in the nests, when they are trying to get out."

Eventually the pair will be released in the Gulf of Mexico by boat. To help them have a better chance of survival, Mote researchers will release them in deeper waters of the Gulf near what is known as “the weed line.” Here, baby turtles can hide in vegetation until they are bigger and less of an attraction to prey. 

Until then, they are in “the hatchling hospital” at the Mote, which is open to visitors.

"They get physical therapy, feedings every couple of hours, and we're just waiting for them to get big and strong so we can release them back out there,” Lauren said of their care.

Along the 35 miles of coastline that Mote researchers monitor, they found 154 nests destroyed by Irma. Yet, for Mantis and Lightning Bug, the odds are still not in their favor.

"Only about 1 in 1,000 will make it to adulthood,” Lauren admitted.

Visitors to the Mote will discover an extensive collection of seahorse, jelly fish, sharks and even smaller sharks you can touch, just minus the most elusive of creatures.

"The Loch Ness one,” Hunter says, referring to his home nation’s Loch Ness Monster.

Know Before You Go:
The Mote Marine Laboratory is open to the public every day of the year. Special behind-the-scenes tours allow visitors to get even closer to the animals.

Tankful on Television:
Watch Florida travel stories, like the one you just read above, on TV four days a week coast-to-coast across Florida. The award-winning Florida on a Tankful with Scott Fais airs on News 13 and Bay News 9 Thursday through Sunday. New segments begin airing at 6 a.m. on both channels as an exclusive to Spectrum.

Scott Fais on Twitter:
For behind the scenes photos, production notes from the field and Florida travel tips, follow Scott on Twitter at: @ScottFaisTV