Assessment of captive rearing conditions on loggerhead hatchlings: Effect of handling frequency and stocking density

Alejandro Usategui-Martín*, Ana Liria-Loza, Roldán A. Valverde, Judit Pinós-Crosas, Fernando Tuya, Annaïs Carbajal, Manel López-Bejar, Daniel Montero

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Frequently, stranded sea turtles require rehabilitation under controlled conditions. Currently, few publications have described the conditions under which rehabilitation is to take place, particularly with respect to the hatchling life stage. To address this paucity of data, we conducted some experiments to assist rehabilitating facilities assess their handling of hatchlings. While in captivity, hatchlings are routinely handled, for example, for data collection and cleaning. Standardization of handling and housing protocols is necessary to define the most adequate rearing conditions to maintain hatchling welfare. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to assess plasma circulating corticosterone (Cort) concentration and growth, as a biomarker for the stress of hatchling loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) under controlled conditions. We performed two experiments to analyze handling frequency and stocking density. In both, Cort was measured and correlated with variations in animal weight and length. In handling experiments, Cort exhibited no significant increase when hatchlings were handled once a week, whereas Cort was significantly elevated when hatchlings were handled once every 2 weeks, suggesting that hatchlings have the ability to acclimate to frequent handling. However, hatchlings exhibited similar growth and mortality, regardless of handling regime. In stocking density experiments, hatchling isolation induced a significant elevation of Cort, in comparison with hatchlings placed with conspecifics at increasing densities. Growth increased in singly housed hatchlings, while mortality increased in tanks with three or more hatchlings. The results obtained suggest that Cort, growth, and mortality should be measured to assess hatchling welfare when kept under controlled conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-498
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Caretta caretta
  • controlled conditions
  • handling protocols
  • hatchlings
  • loggerhead sea turtle
  • North Atlantic
  • welfare


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