Wade Spees // The Post and Courier
Sea Turtle Rescue Program manager Kelly Thorvalson (left), with assistance from intern Whitney Daniel, hydrates a juvenile Kemp's ridley with an injection at the S.C. Aquarium on Tuesday. A Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist brought the four-pound turtle to the rehabilitation facility after it had been hooked by a fisherman at the Folly Beach pier.
The sea turtle wouldn't quit swimming, nosing at its reflection in the tank. After an antibiotic injection, it thrashed its flippers trying to climb the wall.
Its eyes seemed to be saying, "Let me out of here."
Not so fast.
"Taylor" became the first stranded turtle on the coast this year to arrive at the S.C. Aquarium's sea turtle hospital, when a fisherman inadvertently hooked him last weekend on the Folly Beach pier. The juvenile -- maybe not even 2 years old -- was lethargic and dehydrated, with skin lesions and barnacles sticking to its shell.
It will be treated for infections and helped to heal before it's released to the wild.
Taylor is a curiosity. It's a Kemp's ridley, the rarest of all sea turtles. Once thought to be a relative stranger to South Carolina, the Kemp's is turning up more often.
Taylor also is a benchmark of a sort, the 20th sea turtle undergoing treatment at the S.C. Aquarium turtle hospital, the most to be treated at one time at the Charleston facility. The turtle joins four other Kemp's, five loggerheads and 10 green sea turtles, many of them still undergoing treatment after being found cold-stunned along the beaches of the Carolinas last winter.
The Kemp's ridley is known to nest regularly on only two beaches in the western Gulf. In 2008, when a Kemp's was spotted burrowing to lay eggs on Litchfield Beach on Pawleys Island, it was only the second time the species was recorded nesting in South Carolina. But research has shown the younger turtles move into the Atlantic to forage and travel as far north as Massachusetts, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
After the loggerhead, the Kemp's ridley is the sea turtle most often found stranded in South Carolina. A big reason is a simple one: It likes to eat. The turtle has a reputation for picking the bait off fishing hooks, particularly when it's weakened and not able to chase its own food.
"We do know that every year there's an increase in (Kemp's ridley) nesting," said Kelly Thorvalson, manager of the aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program. "Hopefully, conservation efforts for the species are working and we are seeing more turtles in the water."
The loggerhead is an iconic creature of the Lowcountry coast -- a huge, long-living sea turtle that crawls ashore in the spring and summer to lay eggs in the dunes. It grows to the size of a small kitchen table.
The Kemp's is a smaller, platter-size turtle.