A hidden nest, a perilous trek, a temporary home and a Coast Guard escort make the successful release of two loggerhead sea turtles by the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher quite an epic tale.
The sea turtles began their journey in August 2012, when they hatched in an undiscovered dune nest in Kure Beach. Instead of heading to sea as hatchlings typically do, eleven tiny turtles took off in the wrong direction. They traveled across a busy highway, through a convenience store parking lot and into a nearby natural area. Later the same day, Aquarium staff and Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project volunteers discovered the tiny wanderers. Several of the strays were released immediately. The Aquarium took in and cared for the remaining turtles.
Each summer, the Aquarium works with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and local sea turtle rescue organizations, accepting a limited number of hatchlings that do not make the initial trek to the ocean. Usually these turtles are discovered during routine nest excavations three days after a nest hatches.
While at the Aquarium, the animals received careful monitoring and care to ensure proper growth and good health. When they arrived the turtles were about the size of an Oreo cookie, but a fraction of the weight. During their stay, they grew and helped educate more than 433,000 visitors about sea turtle species, all of which are threatened or endangered.
Recently, two of the yearling turtles were cleared for release. Their growth enabled their inclusion in a satellite tracking program that began at the Aquarium in 2012. Staff named the pair, Shadow and Sassy, and affixed small battery-powered satellite transmitters to the turtles. The tracking devices allow Aquarium staff and others to gather valuable information on a released turtle’s movements.
“Loggerheads spend most of their lives in the open ocean,” said Aquarium Curator Hap Fatzinger. “We don’t know much about them. Tracking these animals can help us learn more about their behavior.”
In late November, Shadow and Sassy caught a ride with the U.S. Coast Guard on maneuvers from Fort Macon and were released into the warm water of the Gulf Stream.
At the time of release, Sassy weighed approximately 9.2 pounds and measured 13.3 inches (curved length). Shadow weighed 8.8 pounds and measured 13.2 inches.
Since their release, Sassy and Shadow have traveled more than 1,534 miles and 1,518 miles, respectively. Aquarium staff plan to track the turtles for several months. The public can also follow the animals’ progress and learn more about sea turtles at seaturtle.org.