Featured Image Credit:Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Seeing a rehabilitated animal or marine mammal released back into the wild after being rescued is without a doubt one of the most heart-warming sights to see. As for the aquarium or zoo who did the actual rescuing and rehabilitating, it’s a rewarding moment for everyone involved.
The Florida Aquarium felt this exact way just a few days ago when they successfully sent FIVE sea turtle hatchlings back to the ocean after an eight-month stay at the aquariums downtown Tampa facility. Among those five hatchlings were four green turtles and one loggerhead. The hatchlings were also joined by a juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtle which stayed at the Aquarium overnight before being released.
The “wash back” sea turtle hatchlings were released a couple of miles offshore from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s watercraft into the Gulf of Mexico. They were all rescued from the Florida Panhandle back in November 2016.
The term “wash back” refers to the action of the baby sea turtle being washed back onto the beach after failed attempts to swim past the rough, crashing waves that are too much for the little babies to handle. After being rescued, the baby sea turtles chilled out at the Florida Aquarium until a seaweed patch was found off local coasts to give them the best chance of survival.
“In ideal conditions, hatchlings make their way past the surf a couple of miles offshore where they find a seaweed patch, and they live up to a couple of years in the weed line that serves as a refuge and supplies food until they’re big enough to head further out to sea,” said The Florida Aquarium’s Associate Veterinarian Dr. Ari Fustukjian.
Seaweed, or “weed lines,” provide safety and camouflage for the turtles and also serve as a source of food due to the abundance of fish species and invertebrates that live within the seaweed patches. According to Fustukjian, “They’ll travel with these floating nurseries for a few years before getting big enough to start striking out on their own.”
During their stay at The Florida Aquarium, the young turtles were provided with plenty of food as well as special ultraviolet lighting which is crucial to growth. In just six months, the loggerhead turtle hatchling went from just 39 grams in weight to more than 480, and from 3-4” shell length to 7-8”. The other animals experienced the same type of growth, according to the aquarium.
The effort to save these hatchlings was especially delicate and important because both green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are classified as endangered and loggerheads are classified as threatened.
Sea turtle nesting season takes place from May through October. So remember, you can do your part in helping save sea turtles by leaving marked nests alone and not interfering with hatchlings that are heading out to sea, which usually takes place at night.