Rescue effort: Leatherback turtle returns
Turtle came ashore in Collier on Monday, ...
Leatherback turtle comes ashore
Rare turtle appears at state park in ...
How to help
Anyone who sees Lizzy or another stranded or dead turtle, dolphin or whale should stay at least 30 feet away from the animal and call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212 in Sarasota or Manatee counties or in other parts of the state, call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
A giant leatherback sea turtle first spotted on Collier County’s shores was released back into the Gulf of Mexico Thursday afternoon after being evaluated by scientists in Sarasota.
Blood tests conducted by Mote Marine Laboratory showed the turtle, nicknamed Lizzy, was not suffering from any illness, officials said.
Though scientists would have liked to keep the turtle for further testing, the weather patterns and the difficulty of accommodating a massive leatherback turtle forced them to act in the animal’s best interest and release it as soon as possible, Mote veterinarian Andy Stamper said in a prepared statement.
Shortly after 2 p.m., officials released the 5-foot-long, 787-pound turtle from a boat more than 20 miles off St. Petersburg.
Mote staff are advising coastal residents and beachgoers to alert wildlife specialists if the turtle comes ashore again.
Maura Kraus, principal environmental specialist with Collier County Parks and Recreation, was surprised when she learned that the turtle was being released, but Kraus said she was “really, really happy.”
“Leatherbacks are really hard to keep in captivity and they usually don’t make it that long,” Kraus said.
Staff and volunteers from Mote and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission used a boat from Tampa Fire Rescue to carry the turtle out to sea.
“She slid off the back of the boat, went into the water and surfaced a couple of times for some good deep breaths,” Stamper said. “She did everything that she was supposed to. And it looks like she oriented herself in the right direction — south.”
Mote staff treated a wound on the turtle’s left rear flipper, but they found no severe injuries or signs of disease after carefully monitoring the turtle and taking blood samples, officials said.
It’s possible Lizzy was trying to nest when she was discovered on a Collier beach on Monday and again on a Bonita Springs beach Tuesday, officials said.
“It’s possible the turtle was trying to nest and became disoriented,” Stamper said. “If that’s the case, she may try to come ashore again.”
Leatherback nesting season doesn’t begin until March.
Neither Mote Marine officials nor Kraus could confirm if the turtle laid eggs.
Leatherbacks are the largest reptiles on the planet and are the most endangered of all the sea turtles.
Eve Haverfield, founder of Turtle Time Inc., who coordinated the transport of the turtle in Lee County, was present for the release and unavailable for comment.
The endangered leatherback sea turtle became the first of its kind to be spotted on a Collier beach when it came ashore at Delnor-Wiggins State Park on Monday. Park staff and volunteers were able to coax it back into the water, but it came ashore the next day on Big Hickory Island, between Bonita Beach and New Pass.
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