Transmissions show that the 7 foot, soft-shelled black sea turtle on Sunday swam to the east coast of near-by Nantucket. The big male then spent the early part of the week in the waters just south of Nantucket which is in an area that often attracts leatherbacks in the summer to feed on abundant sea jellies (jellyfish). The turtle has since swum in a primarily southerly direction.
Turtle researchers are pleased with the animal’s progress but remain guardedly optimistic as this animal was near death when rescued. Due to recent field research on live leatherbacks conducted by UNH’s Kara Dodge and the Aquarium’s head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis and rescue team leader Connie Merigo, the turtle was treated with a suite of medications and nutritional supplements that led to a quick recovery to a stable medical condition in less than 48 hours. However, given the turtle’s enormous size and the demands of handling and caring for it, the medical team decided that releasing the turtle was its best chance to survive. Before its release, the turtle was given a long term dosage of medicine and supplements that would aid in its recovery for about a week. The goal of that strategy was to give the animal more time to recover and be able to forage on its own and regain its strength.
The early satellite tracking data is encouraging.
This rescue is very significant as leatherbacks rarely strand alive. Of those, the vast majority have died quickly once in rehab. This might be just the third successful treatment and release of a leatherback anywhere. This is the first time that a released leatherback has been outfitted with a satellite tag that will hopefully reveal its travels for possibly up to three months.
Leatherbacks are swimming marine dinosaurs. They are largest of the sea turtles and commonly weigh in excess of 1000 pounds. They are endangered throughout tropical and temperate waters around the world and might become extinct in the Pacific in the next 30 years. Leatherbacks migrate into New England waters in the early summer to feed on sea jellies and return south in the autumn.
For more about the animals rescue and rehabilitation at the Aquarium Animal Care Center click here.
See video of the animal's transport and release here.
Learn more about the incredible significance of this rescue, straight from the Rescue Team, here.