Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sea Turtles "Bulls Bay" and "Mini Ming" Get Released!

South Carolina Aquarium sea turtle patients "Bulls Bay" (65-lb loggerhead) and "Mini Ming" (5-lb green) were medically cleared for release on Tuesday, February 12th and the relay to release them began! As timing would have it, our NC turtle colleagues were planning a release for over 30 sea turtles that had been treated for cold-stunning in various facilities. The Coast Guard Cutter Block Island would be heading for the Gulf Stream on Thursday morning and we were excited to get Bulls Bay and Mini Ming on the boat. The turtles were weighed, measured, tagged and transported to the NC border where Barbara Bergwerf and I met Sarah Finn from NC Wildlife Resources Commission for the hand off. 

Sea Turtle Hospital Intern Joni and I move Bulls Bay into a transport container. Bulls Bay was originally caught in the SCDNR In-Water Research Program's turtle trawls and was not healthy. Finding the turtle early in his illness possibly saved his life.
Mini Ming originally stranded in Mingo Creek on Kiawah Island and was rescued by naturalists from the Night Heron Nature Center. At the time of admission, Mini was the smallest green sea turtle ever admitted into the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital!
Mini Ming, snug in his/her transport container, has just been through the first leg of the transport and ready for part two - the drive to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores where she would spend the night before being released. 
Sara Finn and I transfer Bulls Bay inside of his container from the Aquarium's husbandry van to the NC Wildlife Commission truck while photographer Barbara Bergwerf documented the move.
Thirty-nine sea turtles were loaded onto US Coast Guard CutteBlock Island Thursday morning and headed for the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately, engine trouble forced the cutter to turn around before the release took place. The turtles were transported to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and a NOAA facility while a back-up plan was made. Special thanks to the NC Aquarium folks for these photographs!

Fortunately, US Coast Guard Cutter Fort Macon stepped in to save the day! On Friday morning, the sea turtles, including Bulls Bay and Mini Ming, were loaded onto cutter Fort Macon to be transported to the Gulf Stream for release.
Crew from the US Coast Guard Fort Macon, NOAA, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and staff from NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores get one last photo before the turtles take off.

The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue's patient numbers are still higher than ever in the past. It was perfect timing to be able to release these two healthy sea turtles so quickly to have breathing room in our small hospital. Although there are 23 sea turtles still under rehabilitative care, pre-release analyses are getting started on several of the patients and we hope to have more ready for release in the coming weeks. Since the waters are still cold off the SC coast, turtles will be transported to areas where they reside in the winter. Local beach releases will take place again when warm spring weather warms our coastal waters. Stay tuned!

We are grateful to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, US Coast Guard, NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, NOAA, and all others that helped with this release. And we are always extremely grateful for those involved in the initial rescue and the help we receive to rehabilitate these threatened and endangered species. Each step in this process is critical and takes many working together to make it happen. THANK YOU ALL!

Kelly Thorvalson
Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager