If you have not had the opportunity to meet our remote staff Jess Patterson, you are missing out! We had a chance to sit down with her and chat about her life experience with diving, sea turtle rescue, and shark handling!
Why did you become scuba certified?
I was always in the water growing up! It was just a natural transition to then be fully submerged in it. I always knew I wanted to work with ocean life, so this was another step to getting the career I wanted.
What's a random fact about yourself?
I’m a big nerd. While I dont have time for it these days, I love video games, comics and D&D. Quite contrasting to the other side of my very active and adventurous life.
I also have a 50lb tortoise named Gunther who is 15yrs old. Yes, I know he could outlive me. I joke and say “I will need to find someone to pass my tortoise and cast iron skillet down to eventually.”
How did you get started with turtle rescue?
I started working with the resident sea turtles living at SeaWorld California in 2010 and from there my passion for them was ignited. I cared for these turtles and the few rescues we would get a year for 8 years, and it made me want to do more for the sea turtle population as a whole, and pursue rescue to help wild turtles.
What qualifications do you have to help with the rescue?
I went to school to become a certified veterinary technician but sea turtle medicine is a lot of on the job learning, on top of professional medical training. When in school working towards being a CVT, it mostly encompasses small animals like cats and dogs, so having to apply this knowledge to sea turtles takes experience and a lot of research on your own time.
How long have you worked for Brevard Zoo?
I started at the zoo 5 years ago. I moved from California for this job, my dream job!
What is your primary reason for being passionate about turtle rescue?
Besides being these beautiful charismatic animals, sea turtles are incredibly important to the environment. They are considered a keystone species, meaning if they were to become extinct, it could collapse the ecosystem. At every stage of a sea turtle's life they are important to sustaining the environment, even when they are just eggs.
What has been your best memory with turtle rescue/release?
I have two memories that compete against each other. One is a little green turtle named Ceres, who had this neck injury we could not figure out how to fix. It caused her to be buoyant and lift to one side. We did all kinds of physical therapy, I even made her a vest made of old wetsuits to balance her out in the water. After 9 months with no success, a volunteer suggested chiropractic care, as her daughter was an animal chiropractor. We got Dr.Mincey in and in a month Ceres showed incredible improvement. We released her a few months later.
Another one is Venus, a juvenile green turtle that came in with their front flippers wrapped in fishing line. The fishing line was so tight, it broke both of the humerus bones. The flippers could have died. We had a solid reason to euthanize this turtle because of the severity of their injuries but working in rehab you’ll get these gut feelings about some patients and I had boots dancing in my stomach about venus. I wanted to give this turtle a shot. It took 2 years, but this turtle healed their bones themselves and was released! I hope they are out there just causing havoc on the reefs, just as they did in rehab.
Is feeding sharks scary?
I don't want to say it's “scary” but they deserve a lot of respect. When you are as close as I am to them, you need to spend the time reading their body language. It's a back and forth give and take of energy as we read off eachother. They are watching me, as much as I'm watching them so it's important to come off cool and collected or else I will scare them off.
What training did you have to go through for shark handling?
I worked with sharks at SeaWorld, which is where I learned their body language. When feeding them, whether it's with tongs or underwater, there is a rhythm and a queue between when the snack is offered, when the shark acknowledges it's there, and when to let go and get out of the way. Understanding this just takes time. I also learned a ton just working under Randy, the owner of Emerald Charters and the other shark handlers on the boat. There are so many tips and tricks working with wild populations, I would have never figured out on my own without them.
What is your most favorite memory with shark feeding?
Working with Snooty the lemon for the first time!! I knew who it was the second she came into view, that unmistakable smile. I was lucky enough that she dropped a tooth basically into my hands, and Snooty’s biggest fan, Richard Apple, was on this dive. He captured some great shots of this time with her, so I have so many ways I can remember this moment. Forever special.
To find out more about Brevard Zoo and the amazing things happening with the Turtle Sanctuary, please visit their information page.
You may also donate to the Turtle Sanctuary directly by clicking here.