OCEAN CITY — Continuing a long-running series of positive outcomes, the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), with the help of some friends, successfully released a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle rescued off the coast of Ocean City in July last week in North Carolina.
On July 26, the Ocean City Beach Patrol rescued the young adult loggerhead turtle found floating in the ocean off 15th Street. OCBP Sgt. Brent Weingard rescued the turtle from the surf and brought it to shore on a boogie board as a large crowd on onlookers gathered. The loggerhead turtle was severely lethargic and emaciated and had been the victim of an apparent boat strike. Weingard was later given the honor of naming the turtle since he rescued her and chose Anna.
The OCBP contacted the National Aquarium’s MARP team, which in turn, contacted MARP’s local response team. The local MARP team is made up of several trained local volunteers who often respond to marine mammal strandings to assess the extent of their illness or injury until the aquarium’s MARP team can respond.
The MARP team determined the loggerhead turtle rescued from the ocean just off 15th Street was unable to dive properly, putting it at risk for further injury. In addition, the turtle’s inability to dive likely inhibited its feeding efforts, leading to its lethargic and emaciated condition. When the MARP team arrived, the loggerhead was transported to the National Aquarium in Baltimore for rehabilitation.
The turtle was found to have an abundance of organisms living on its shell and soft tissues including barnacles, marine leeches and sea grasses. Within the first few days of rehabilitation, the turtle had shed nearly all of its marine hitchhikers from its shell and soft tissues. Once the shell was smooth, the turtle was able to dive and feed properly, but the creature was still severely underweight.
During its rehabilitation, Anna was fed a steady diet of capelin, squid, shrimp and blue crabs, its favorite food. Loggerhead turtles often feed on blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, according to MARP officials.
During rehabilitation, Anna gained 22 pounds and returned to its ideal weight of 95 pounds. Once it had regained the weight and shed the organisms from its shell and soft tissue, the loggerhead was ready to be released back into the wild.
It was released off the coast of North Carolina last week under the direction of the National Aquarium’s MARP team with assistance from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Because of its status as a threatened or endangered species, its successful release was called a big victory by MARP officials.
“All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are either threatened or endangered, and so the release of this sea turtle is very rewarding for our team of staff and volunteers,” said MARP stranding coordinator Jennifer Dittmar. “The recovery of this turtle has truly been a team effort, from the invaluable response by the Ocean City Beach Patrol to the staff and volunteers of the National Aquarium and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. We have every reason to believe she will have a successful reintroduction back into its natural environment.”