Earlier this week, a leatherback turtle made headlines after being discovered stranded on a beach in South Carolina, a first for the state and a rarity in the United States. Now, after being nursed back to health at a Sea Turtle Hospital, the endangered animal has been successfully returned to the wild.
The 475-pound sea turtle was first discovered last weekend after being washed ashore along the coast of Yawkey South Island Reserve, a park located in Georgetown County. Since sea turtles do not become stranded unless they have problems with their health, the exhausted animal was immediately taken to the South Carolina Aquarium, which is conveniently equipped with a Sea Turtle Hospital as part of their Sea Turtle Rescue Program. State wildlife officials said that it took five people to transport the turtle off the beach and onto a specially made wood platform.
Shortly after being admitted, hospital staff discovered that the animal had abnormally low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. The turtle was therefore administered fluids and vitamins to restore glucose levels back to normal and also antibiotics in case of any infections, although there were no obvious signs of injury or trauma. The animal was later named Yawkey after the place in which it was discovered and was estimated to be a juvenile between the ages of 10-15. Since, at this age, sea turtles do not have a mature reproductive system, aquarium staff were unable to determine its sex, according to NPR.
South Carolina Aquarium
Sea turtles generally don’t do well in captivity, so after gradually acclimating the animal to cool water temperatures and tagging it, aquarium officials regularly monitored Yawkey’s health with the intention of releasing him/her as soon as possible. Yawkey quickly regained energy over the course of the week so, on March 12, the animal was taken to a secret beach location in South Carolina to make sure it was not disturbed by members of the public. The turtle then managed to push itself back into the water without assistance, Live Science reports.
Leatherbacks are the largest species of turtle on Earth, reaching up to two meters (7 ft) in length and sometimes exceeding more than 900 kilograms (2,000 lb) in weight. They are named after the fact that their blueish top shell, or carapace, is composed of leathery, somewhat flexible connective tissue, rather than the hard bony material present on other sea turtle species.
Another feature that makes them distinct from other sea turtles is their mouths, which are equipped with pointy cusps and sharp-edged jaws that are suited to chomping on soft-bodied prey, like jellyfish. Other sea turtles have crushing plates that are adapted for a diet of hard-bodied organisms.
The leatherback turtle was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act back in 1970, according to NOAA, but Pacific and Southwest Atlantic populations are considered critically endangered. While populations in the Atlantic seem to be gradually increasing, the same cannot be said for those in the Pacific that seem to be declining rapidly due to a number of threats, such as egg harvesting and fishery bycatch.
[Via Live Science and SC Aquarium]