Turtles return to sea after rehabilitation at South Carolina Aquarium sea turtle hospital
KIAWAH ISLAND — The bite was large and sharp, and the hind end of the turtle’s shell snapped off like a potato chip.
The sea turtle hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium has treated injured or sick sea turtles for 12 years now, despite long odds for many of the rescued turtles. Nearly 100 have been returned to the ocean.
Rehabilitated turtle releases
Since 2000: 94.
*Releases to date including two releases Thursday.
Source: South Carolina Aquarium.
For more information: http://seaturtlehospital.blogspot.com
“It would have to have been a large shark. We’ve never seen a bite as clean as this,” said Kelly Thorvalson, sea turtle rescue program manager for the South Carolina Aquarium. “Bitten all the way through the bone like that, it’s amazing the turtle was able to escape.”
Pier not only escaped, the juvenile loggerhead turtle thrashed its way through the ocean for at least a month, scavenging what food it could as the wound healed.
But the carapace still bled, and Pier was hungry enough that it took bait on a hook at the Folly Beach Pier in June.
That might have saved its life.
Pier and a young green turtle named Grover are the latest releases of rehabilitated sea turtles in a 12-year effort by the South Carolina Aquarium. They crawled across the sand and into the ocean Thursday at Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, to the usual throng of onlookers.
“It’s just a heartwarming story,” said Heather Finly of Kiawah Island, one of those onlookers. “With all the negativity in the world, it just makes me happy.”
Grover was found cold-stunned, lying lifelessly in a marsh in Cherry Grove in March. Cold stunning for a sea turtle is like hypothermia for a human, potentially fatal.
If a young angler hadn’t spotted the turtle in the late afternoon, Grover probably wouldn’t have lived through the night, Thorvalson said.
Pier is one of those spunky fighters that thrill people. Despite its maiming, the young turtle was feisty when it arrived at the aquarium’s sea turtle hospital, then made an astounding recovery in only two months. Its shell now looks like a moon in eclipse, but the 60-pound turtle has been going full bore, relentlessly chasing down and snatching food crabs.
“It’s very quick, very feisty,” Thorvalson said.
The ponderous loggerhead is a treasured icon of the Lowcountry coast. Loggerheads and green turtles are two of seven species of sea turtles, all of them considered endangered.
The aquarium program treats and rehabilitates sick or injured sea turtles, trying to return as many as possible to the wild.
The releases have become a popular event — people line the reptiles’ path down the beach to the sea and cheer wildly.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.