Cowabunga! Bay Area humane society leaders say they fear the box office-shredding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will trigger a pet turtle frenzy that could potentially threaten the species' health.

The blockbuster released Friday netted $25.6 million on its opening day, according to website Box Office Mojo. East Bay SPCA staffers worry the film's popularity could cause a spike in turtle sales from parents prodded by kids who want to adopt their own "heroes in a half-shell." In turn, local animal shelters are urging the public to resist acquiring the reptilian pets on impulse. Instead, they're asking parents to buy toy action figures in lieu of live turtles for their children.

(L-R) Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) in ’Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’
(L-R) Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) in 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.' (ILM/Paramount Pictures)

Or pizza. After all, everybody knows teenage turtles love pizza.

"The film may inspire families to doom real turtles and tortoises to unsuitable, unsafe futures with ill-prepared adoptive families," said East Bay SPCA Communications Director Rita Wilds. "The spike hasn't started yet but it's common when these types of movies come out -- for example with "101 Dalmatians" -- that they tend to get people excited about bringing the animals into the home and don't realize the responsibility," she said.

Owning a pet takes planning, equipment, food and commitment, said East Bay SPCA President Allison Lindquist.


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"Sadly, many people do little research before acquiring a pet and don't understand and commit to the responsibilities of lifetime ownership," Lindquist said. "We fear this movie will drive interest in acquiring pet turtles and tortoises."

Zoey Thoel, manager at Andy's Pet Shop, said the San Jose-based business recently had seven turtles but adopted them out in less than six weeks.

As of Saturday, the pet shop did not have any turtles or tortoises available for adoption, but Thoel said they anticipate selling more soon.

"People put them in their backyards often," said Thoel, who said she owns a tortoise that she keeps in her backyard. "We make sure to screen the families purchasing the turtles. We explain they need a lot -- require very specific habitats, food and supplements in order to keep healthy."

The appropriate setup for a turtle or tortoise is costly, Linquist said, and as the animal grows, its space needs to be expanded accordingly. Many reptiles can live for decades and in the case of tortoises, may outlive their owners. It is important to be aware that unscrupulous turtle and tortoise dealers can illegally obtain and sell their animals and may sell animals with compromised health, Linquist added. Some species on the market are actually illegal in California because they can be a threat to our local species.

Linquist also emphasized animals transported illegally may be sick or carry parasites or bacteria like Salmonella. Anyone with questions can call East Bay SPCA at 510-563-4604.

Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.