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Loggerhead comes full circle after healing at CROW

By Staff | May 22, 2009

CROW Wildlife Hospital is home to the only licensed sea turtle facility between Sarasota and the East Coast. Established about six years ago, CROW’s turtle pavilion houses three 900 gallon tanks with carefully maintained temperature and chemistry. In fact, it is one of only two facilities in Florida that must manufacture its own sea water. The other is Sea World Orlando.

Three sea turtles arrived at CROW in mid-March. Fish and Wildlife brought in two young Greens from the East Coast that had beached themselves. Found surrounded by sharks, and unable to dive, a Loggerhead turtle was rescued by boaters Melissa and Danny Land from Tampa Bay.

When the Loggerhead arrived at CROW the next day she was fairly responsive and had no lacerations or fractures to her shell. Dr. PJ determined her to be a sub-adult weighing in at only 68 pounds. A test trial in one of CROW’s tanks indicated to the staff that the turtle had the ability to dive to the bottom as well as swim for short periods of time.

Although unable to determine the exact cause of the Loggerhead’s condition, she continued to show improvement with supportive care and a diet consisting of squid, smaller fish such as mullet and smelt, crab and some greens. She continued to gain weight and by May 1st was now about 80 pounds and becoming difficult to handle a sign to the CROW staff the Loggerhead was ready to go. After a call to the State Fish and Wildlife, permission was granted to release the turtle on Monday May 11 on Sanibel.

With a caravan of staff and volunteers, the Loggerhead arrived at the beach and was carried in a tarp to about 30 feet from the water’s edge. Ryan Colburn, a 4th year vet student from Michigan State University was just beginning his four week externship at CROW. Checking in at the clinic at 7 am Monday morning, Ryan wasn’t prepared for what happened next. “PJ said you and Zack will be carrying the turtle. That was the first I heard about it and was very surprised,” remembered Ryan. “Never having worked with wildlife, my biggest fear was that I would do something wrong.”

The weather was perfect and the Gulf as smooth as a lake. Everyone watched as the Loggerhead immediately made her way down the beach. She lifted her head, looked around and moved closer to the water. She dived under, surfaced a few seconds later to take a breath, and that was the last she was seen.

It was a very emotional moment for everyone watching, particularly Ryan. “I had learned her story and to see her come full circle on my very first day was pretty exciting.