Last week, a 655-pound leatherback sea turtle was found stranded in a mud flat near Cape Cod. New England Aquarium workers cared for the injured and starving turtle and released it back into the ocean two days later. Aquarium officials are currently tracking its movements and hoping for the best.
The leatherback was originally found at night by a group from an area Audubon Sanctuary. Although they knew the animal was injured, considering the remoteness of the location and the prospect of handling the animal in darkness, they decided to leave and come back for it the morning. Fortunately, the turtle was still there and they were able to transport it to the aquarium’s marine animal care center.
Aquarium veterinarians reported the animal had a partly severed flipper, was a hundred pounds short of its ideal weight, and was essentially near death.
“When he first got here he was fairly lethargic, especially out of the water,” head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis said.
Veterinary staff gave the turtle an injectable sugar solution, vitamin and mineral supplements, steroids, and antibiotics in effort to see quick results.
“We were fairly aggressive with this turtle because we have not been successful the last two leatherbacks we’ve had,” Innis said.
The rescue team was eager to get the turtle back into its environment as leatherbacks traditionally do not survive long in captivity. Aquarium officials explained that leatherbacks are just too large to be properly contained and the open-sea creatures do not understand the concept of a confined space and will continue to try and swim (despite hitting walls).
It’s suspected the animal’s injured flipper may have hampered its ability to hunt for food, which led to the gradual decline of its health. The turtle may have been injured by a predator, although the straight line of the damaged tissue suggests it became entangled in a vertical fishing line or boat mooring. According to the aquarium, 20 leatherbacks have already died in New England this season because of such incidents.
Rescuers are pleased with the leatherbacks movements so far as it’s already swam towards a jellyfish colony, which will serve as a good source of food. They will continue to monitor its location through a satellite feed.