Coverage: Gulf Coast Oil Spill
SeaWorld Orlando set out from Calusa Island Marina in Goodland today to release five endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles – displaced by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – into the waters of Gullivan Bay, south of Marco Island. The area is a natural habitat for Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.
"These particular sea turtles are very strong, very fiesty. The research indicates Kemp's Ridleys of this size do live in this area," said Dan Conklin, aquarium supervisor at Seaworld Orlando.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also released two Kemp's Ridley sea turtles that are originally from the Mississippi area of the Gulf.
For two weeks, SeaWorld aquarists and veterinarians provided care for the reptilian refugees – nine altogether – since their arrival from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., where they were being treated for injuries related to fishing hooks and lines. The animals came to SeaWorld because the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies staff needed to make room for the possible arrival of animals in need of treatment due to the oil spill.
SeaWorld is one of the few organizations with the expertise to tend to the special needs of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. They are solitary animals and do not interact with each other and other turtle species.
They are also one of the most endangered sea turtles, according to Rhonda Bailey, a coordinator for the sea turtle stranding and salvage network for FWC.
This made their trek to SeaWorld imperative as park aquarists set up a triage area to accommodate the new patients. Four of the turtles will remain at SeaWorld’s Animal Rehabilitation Center for further treatment before they are released.
About 20 people showed up at Calusa Island Marina to get a glimpse of the juvenile turtles. The small crowd surrounded SeaWorld officials as they brought two of the turtles out for viewing. Brandon Donnelly, 10, visiting from Connecticut, got to touch a turtle for the first time in his life and found it hard to describe the way it felt.
"It was hard and fleshy," he said.
The release is a joint effort between SeaWorld Orlando, the FWC and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Officials are unsure if the turtles will naturally try to make their way back to Mississippi.
"It is possible they could go home. You can't really make a turtle do something he doesn't want to do," Bailey said.