A sea turtle blowing bubbles intrigues the photographer

ByDavid M. Conte

Apr 27, 2022

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Three weeks ago, Charlotte Piho captured video of a sea turtle blowing bubbles out of its mouth off Rarotonga, Cook Islands, where she oversees turtle visits. The video taken on April 6 is making its rounds on the internet as people try to guess what is going on.

“This precious turtle my team calls ‘Aria’ is quite the artist,” Piho said. “I have received many messages from people trying to understand what it does and how it is possible. Marine biologists, divers, turtle researchers… None of them have ever seen this type of behavior before.

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The 37-year-old photographer said Aria – named after her one-year-old niece who is also quite an entertaining entertainer – had done something similar the day before, but this time she was releasing air by the nose.

“She’s very territorial, she likes to sit on that same rocky ledge,” Piho explained. “When other turtles take her place, she often swims up and knocks them out with her nose. She’s there almost every day. This bubble behavior is only recent, though. She’s started squeezing air out of her nose .

Piho said Aria rehearsed the blowing bubble the next day, but hasn’t done it since.

Tony McEwan, curator at the Waikiki Aquarium, said he personally hasn’t seen anything like it and shared some of the possibilities to explain what’s going on.

“I think it’s for buoyancy control, and remember, they sleep on the bottom. They can hold their breath for a very long time, so to make themselves slightly heavier so they don’t move, they blow bubbles,” McEwan said. “So this could be one of [the possibilities] it’s that they’re just trying to adjust their buoyancy so they can fall asleep a little better. Often they get stuck in a crevice or under a rock so they don’t get swept away.

Watch the video below taken by Charlotte Piho:

McEwan added that bubbles coming out of the nose means they are coming from the lungs. When they come out through the mouth, it can come from the lungs or the stomach. He said that in this incident, the turtle was doing it on purpose because the neck was elongated that way.

Another possibility? Aria could just play.

“Like humans, they are idiosyncratic. They each have their little quirks. They like to do it,” he said. “They are known to blow bubbles and go and bite them. It’s a number of different possibilities that it could be, and of course with biology, we never know exactly.

McEwan said he discovered that turtles do all sorts of fun things in aquariums. In this case, he thinks it’s buoyancy control. The animal, he said, looks particularly healthy, so he has no problems. If the animal was blowing bubbles through its nose and there is mucus on the surface, there is a chance that it has a lung infection or something else.

“I think it’s buoyancy control so they can either fall asleep, or he feels more comfortable, or he’s just doing something he likes,” McEwan said.

“She seems to like copying what I do,” Piho said. “My team used to joke that they were blowing bubbles by replicating my attempts at bubble rings, copying what I and my staff were doing.”

piho said she’s an award-winning photographerand when people make her rounds to take pictures with turtles, Aria is usually there.

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“She loves the attention,” Piho said. “If I’m photographing guests with another turtle, she’ll often swim through the frame, seemingly wanting to get attention and be in the picture. She also loves eye contact and always looks me and my guests straight in the eye. Love her like a pet. If I don’t see her on tour, I always hope she’s okay.