Photos have emerged online from a pet shop in Auckland, keeping what looks to be about 50 turtles in one small tank, promoting discussion over whether pet stores should be selling exotic animals.
Professor Andrew Knight from SAFE said he was shocked "by the sheer level of crowding in that tank".
He said for turtles of that size they need about 250 litres of water per turtle, yet the approximate 40-50 turtles were in a tank that did not look much bigger than 250L in total.
"There's going to be quite a high build up of waste products, it's going to be dirty water that's likely going to impede their health. It's also going to be very stressful for these animals too."
The store said the Facebook post is completely false and the number of turles in the tank is within industry standards.
Professor Knight said it was an example of a wider problem of pet stores across the country, with a high death rate while at wholesalers, and a death toll of reptiles once bought and taken home of about 75 per cent in the first year.
"These are appalling figures. It's really quite immoral to have an industry which essentially exploits both these animals and the caring, unsuspecting people who buy these animals," he said.
He said there was a difference between taking domesticated animals home and exotic species that come from specialised environments.
The SPCA told TVNZ1's Breakfast they have passed the issue onto inspectors.