Leatherback sea turtle released after stay at Mote
Lizzy, the stranded leatherback sea turtle brought to Mote Marine Laboratory on Tuesday, was successfully released Thursday from a boat off the coast of St. Petersburg. Mote staff are advising coastal residents and beachgoers to alert wildlife specialists if the turtle comes ashore again.
The nearly 800-pound adult turtle was transported by staff and volunteers from Mote and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Thursday morning to the U.S. Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg. From there, the turtle was transferred to the Fireboat Patriot, a vessel of Tampa Fire Rescue, which carried Lizzy out to sea.
Mote and FWC staff on board released the turtle at 2:10 p.m., 23.5 miles offshore of St. Petersburg in 66 feet of water.
“She slid off the back of the boat, went into the water and surfaced a couple of times for some good deep breaths. She did everything that she was supposed to,” said Mote Veterinarian Dr. Andy Stamper. “And it looks like she oriented herself in the right direction – south.”
Stamper recalled that other leatherbacks are far less lucky. “For my first patient out of vet school in 1993 – my first day of work, in fact – I was called about a stranded leatherback. That turtle had crab trap lines wrapped around both fore flippers and they were necrotic (dead). I had to euthanize that turtle. Seeing this leatherback released – knowing she’s an adult nesting female that will contribute to the population – it feels like I’ve come full circle.”
Lizzy was originally brought to Mote late Tuesday afternoon by FWC staff after she stranded Tuesday on Big Hickory Island in Lee County. Mote veterinary staff cleaned a wound on her left rear flipper where it attaches to her body and provided antibiotics, but they found no severe injuries or signs of disease after carefully monitoring the turtle and taking blood samples. Because leatherback sea turtles generally don’t do well in enclosed environments, it was in the turtle’s best interest to release her as quickly as possible, Stamper said.
Lizzy’s release at sea was possible thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard, which provided access to their St. Petersburg dock, and Tampa Fire Rescue, who transported the turtle on their new boat, the Fireboat Patriot.
“We would do this everyday if we could. This is a great training mission for us and a great opportunity to do something good at the same time,” said firefighter Tom Meid, who helped pilot the Fireboat Patriot.
Eve Haverfield, who helped rescue Lizzy, also witnessed the turtle’s return to the sea. “This was good for the soul and good for the heart,” she said.
Scientists aren’t sure why Lizzy came ashore or whether she’ll do it again. “Its possible the turtle was trying to nest and became disoriented. If that’s the case, she may try to come ashore again.” Stamper said.
If you see Lizzy or another stranded or dead turtle, dolphin or whale in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, please stay at least 30 feet away from the animal and call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at 941-988-0212.
If you see Lizzy or a stranded sea animal outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, or if you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Lizzy’s nesting history remains unknown. She bears an identification tag that was initially given as part of a group of tags to a researcher in 1999 in Columbia, according to Rhonda Bailey, biologist with FWC’s Sea Turtle Program. But that doesn’t mean the turtle was tagged then and there.
Source: Mote Marine