After wildlife officials made a rare rescue of an endangered 500-pound (230kg) leatherback sea turtle found alive and stranded on a remote beach last Monday, the reptile was immediately treated at a South Carolina aquarium.
Jenna Cormany, a wildlife biologist with the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said it is the first living leatherback turtle to be recovered in South Carolina and one of only a handful ever treated at rehabilitation facilities in the United States.
Kelly Thorvalson, manager of the Sea Turtle Rescue Program at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston said, “I can hardly believe it. They don’t stay alive very often.”
The animal was seen by State wildlife officials on Saturday on the beach on Yawkey-South Island Reserve, a 3.5-mile-long (5.6-km-long) barrier island and wildlife preserve near Georgetown, South Carolina.
Retrieving the turtle from the beach took five rescuers nearly four hours after which the animal was driven to south of Charleston for an hour and a half drive, Cormany said.
“Logistically speaking, transporting the turtle was difficult,” she said. “We had a turtle stretcher on a board and we all did our best to lift it. It was very lethargic and sick looking.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Leatherbacks are the largest turtle in the world and the only sea turtles without a hard shell and can weigh up to 2,000 pounds as adults.
The turtle they found is a young female that may have eaten debris, shell or a plastic bag mistaken for a jellyfish, Wildlife officials surmise.
Named Yawkey by the aquarium’s staff in honor to the island where it was found, the turtle is being treated for a possible intestinal blockage. It’s condition is much improved after having its low blood sugar corrected with fluids, Thorvalson said.
The rescued turtle will be released after treatment for a few days as Leatherbacks do poorly in captivity, she added.