Aquarium Releases 2 Rehabbed Sea Turtles

Aquarium Releases 2 Rehabbed Sea Turtles
A crowd gathered on the beach at Assateague State Park last week to watch as two rehabilitated sea turtles were released back into the wild. Photo Courtesy of Phillip Smith/National Aquarium

ASSATEAGUE – Two rehabilitated sea turtles were sent back into the ocean from the beach at Assateague State Park, the first public release since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

The National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Team last Thursday released two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles from the beach at Assateague in front of a large crowd of onlookers watching the rehabilitated creatures make their way across the beach and back into the sea. For National Aquarium staffers, it was the first public release of sea turtles, seals or other sea creatures in front of a large crowd of onlookers since before the pandemic.

In a typical year, the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Team releases rehabilitated sea creatures in publicly announced ceremonies. During COVID, however, the aquarium continued to rehabilitate injured or ill sea turtles, seals and other sea mammals as usual, but the releases were generally private ceremonies because of social distancing, gathering sizes and other pandemic-related restrictions in place.

With those restrictions eased, National Aquarium staffers last Thursday released the two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back into the wild in front a big crowd at Assateague State Park. The two turtles, named Bassoon and Cello, in keeping with the aquarium’s theme this year of naming rehabilitated sea creatures after musical instruments, made their way back into the ocean in front of the large crowd that gathered to witness the event.

Both came to the National Aquarium last fall as part of a larger group of 28 sea turtles that were rescued by various agencies and organizations along the east coast. Bassoon and Cello came to the aquarium suffering from various injuries and pneumonia. Bassoon notably received acupuncture treatments and physical therapy treatments while in the aquarium’s care.

In addition, the two rescued sea turtles also received typical supportive care with antibiotics, fluids therapy and dietary supplements. After months of careful rehabilitation, both were deemed ready to return to the wild and were released from the beach at Assateague last week.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who has championed increased federal funding for sea turtle rescue and release programs in Congress, was in attendance for the release last Thursday. Although sea turtles are federally protected, and despite the high costs associated with rescuing and rehabilitating injured or ill sea turtles, there continues to be inadequate federal funding for the dozens of organizations that rescue and rehabilitate the endangered creatures.

For the last two years, the National Aquarium has led a national effort to increase federal funding for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation. National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli said the problem with sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation is growing more acute each year.

“The National Aquarium has rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles for over three decades, but over half of our patients have come in over the last eight years,” he said. “The science suggests that sea turtle strandings are only going to increase in the years ahead, along with the costs of rescuing, caring for and releasing them. Absent sustained and direct federal funding, it is unclear how long non-profit first responders can continue to provide this service to the nation.”

With Van Hollen’s leadership, more than three dozen members of Congress have already endorsed funding sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation in the federal budget. For the first time ever, the 2022 federal budget encouraged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide direct support to organizations that respond to rehabilitate sea turtles.

Van Hollen and others are leading the charge to make sure NOAA has the funding to do so. For example, the Senate’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget includes a $1.5 million line item for sea turtle stranding and rehabilitation grants to nonprofit organizations such as the National Aquarium.

Building on that momentum, Congress recently introduced the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, legislation co-sponsored by Van Hollen, to create a permanent federal grant program to support organizations responding to and caring for threatened and endangered sea turtles. The program, if successful, would allow for more stable and sustainable funding that will ensure more sea turtles recover and return to their ocean home.

“Sea turtles are an endangered species and protecting them helps maintain healthy ocean habitats,” said Van Hollen at the release at Assateague last week. “The National Aquarium’s work on this front has been pivotal and the release of Bassoon and Cello highlights their success. We must continue to invest in protecting these species and I’ll keep fighting to provide the necessary funding to support the organizations that are leading these vital recovery efforts.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.