First Four Turtles Released in Florida!

cold stunned
sea turtle, Kemp's ridley, turtle release
Intern Casey check’s Bubbles’ PIT tag (microchip).

Bubbles, Luce, McGowan, and Figbash are back home to the ocean!

These endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles arrived at the National Marine Life Center in December, after having stranded on Cape Cod in November and December suffering from cold stunning, a severe form of hypothermia.

Each was rescued by Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary from Cape Cod beaches this past November and December. Each underwent critical care at the New England Aquarium. Here at the National Marine Life Center, the turtles received antibiotics and fluids for rehydration. They dined on herring fillets and squid rings, and regained strength.

Most cold stun sea turtles stranding on Cape Cod suffer from such severe health complications that rehabilitation can take anywhere from four to nine months. However, Bubbles, Luce, Figbash, and McGowen made an amazing recovery after only two months!

sea turtle, Kemp's ridley, turtle release
Kathy, NMLC’s Executive Director, applies lubricant to Bubbles’ shell.

Veterinarian Dr. Rogers Williams examined the turtles and gave them a clean bill of health, and our animal care team organized the logistics. Thanks to NOAA Fisheries, we were able to reserve places on a NOAA flight south to Florida.

At 5 am on January 21, animal care staff met at NMLC to prepare the turtles for transport. After removing them from the pool and giving them one last checkup, they placed each turtle in a cardboard “banana box” lined with towels and special reptile heaters. They applied a water based lubricant to the turtles’ shells and body, to keep the animals from drying out en route. And they applied eye ointment to keep the turtles’ eyes moist. They drove the animals across the bridge to the gate of Joint Base Cape Cod and met up with a team from the New England Aquarium who was also releasing turtles. The aquarium took our four and drove them the rest of the way on the base and to the plane.

sea turtle, Kemp's ridley, turtle release
Kate, Director of Marine Animal Rehabilitation, places heat packs in the transport boxes.

NOAA57 flew the turtles to Tampa, Florida, where a team from the Florida Aquarium met the turtles and brought them to their facility. Winter Storm Jonas delayed the planned release for a few days, unbeknownst to the turtles who waited out the storm in the aquarium’s warm pools.

Then, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the turtles were released at Canaveral National Seashore. It was a long journey, and against extraordinary odds they were finally home!

It takes a village to help endangered sea turtles. Bubbles, Luce, McGowan, and Figbash now have a second chance, thanks to a partnership of organizations working to save them.

sea turtle, Kemp's ridley, turtle release
Luce (#50), McGowan (#58), Figbash (#67), and Bubbles (#49) are loaded up and ready to go.
sea turtle, Kemp's ridley, turtle release