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Meet turtle hatchlings at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery's new private experience

Christina Dunlop, a herpetologist at the Cold Spring

Christina Dunlop, a herpetologist at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, holds a pair of baby common map turtles which are about a week and a half old.  Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

If the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium were to name all its turtles, good choices might include Picasso, Matisse or even Monet.

That’s because the turtles are using their bellies to paint abstract artwork that visitors to the new Hatchery Turtle Experience will be given to take home. The 20-minute encounters will also include a meet-and-greet with the hatchery’s new crop of hatchlings and the chance to take a selfie with a favorite turtle.

The new programming will take the place daily to replace the hatchery’s traditional Turtle Hatchling Day, an annual birthday party that can’t be held in the same way this August because of concerns regarding crowds, says director Steve DeSimone. “It’s reserved, private little interactions rather than the big celebration we would have typically had,” he says.

BABIES STEAL SPOTLIGHT

The more intimate turtle encounters will take place in an outdoor tent and will be limited to eight people in each session, DeSimone says. “It’s a large outdoor space; we can space people out appropriately,” he says. Participants will be required to wear masks.

The hatchlings will likely steal the spotlight, as they range from the size of DeSimone’s thumbnail to the size of a quarter, depending on how long it’s been since they hatched, DeSimone says. “There’s something about a baby animal, regardless of whether it has fur or not. They tend to be very adorable. I think it’s just fascinating to see something that is recently born,” DeSimone says.

A hatchery educator will lead the groups, answering the questions that visitors frequently ask, such as what the turtles eat (the adults enjoy fish, strawberries and peaches; the babies eat small aquatic worms), what the turtles do all day (they look for sun to warm up their bodies) and why they are at the hatchery in the first place (“so that we can better explain to visitors their important role in our environment,” DeSimone says).

SELFIE TIME

About 65 turtles from half a dozen species live at the hatchery, DeSimone says. They come out of the pond onto a nearby sandpit to lay their eggs each summer. Hatchery employees dig up the eggs and put them in an incubator until each turtle uses its “egg tooth” to poke its way into the world. The hatchery raises the babies for a short while and then finds homes for them at other aquariums.

Visitors will be able to touch some of the turtles during the sessions, which are planned for every half-hour, DeSimone says. And they’ll be able to pick out a favorite turtle and take a selfie together.

As for the turtle paintings, the turtles have already prepared them prior to the sessions, and they’ll be handed out to each family as a party favor. This is the first time the hatchery has encouraged the turtles to express their creative sides. “The educators coat the bottom of a turtle’s shell with harmless, nontoxic paint and let them crawl around on artistic paper,” DeSimone says. “It does create unique artistic images. I guess the word is abstract.” The Blanding species of turtle makes the best masterpieces, DeSimone says. “They tend to move around a bit more, so their artistic expression is more voluminous.”

HATCHERY TURTLE EXPERIENCE

WHEN|WHERE Sessions begin Aug. 25 and may continue through September depending on demand; Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium, 1660 NY-25A, Cold Spring Harbor.

INFO Advance registration is required and opens Aug. 17 at cshfishhatchery.org; $12 per person includes hatchery admission; 516-692-6768. Masks are mandatory indoors and outdoors.

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