The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores celebrated 18 success stories on Thursday as 18 sea turtles that would not have survived without help swam away into the deep. The Aquarium released the turtles 36 miles offshore, near the Gulf Stream’s warm waters. See more photos of the release on the Aquarium’s Facebook page.
Ten of the turtles are just a few weeks old. Left behind in nests that hatched out on area beaches, the weakened turtles, all loggerheads, were brought to the Aquarium for care until they were strong enough for release. The rest, ranging in age from one to five years old, arrived at the Aquarium under similar circumstances in past years. The Aquarium annually cares for dozens of hatchlings in need of assistance. Most are released within a few weeks. Some, like these, spend some time in educational programs and exhibits before heading to sea.
Six of the larger turtles are yearlings, all 2012 hatchlings from Emerald Isle. Two green turtles and a loggerhead spent the year at the Aquarium before Thursday’s release. Three more went to other aquariums to be part of their education programs on sea turtles – PPG Aquarium in Pittsburgh, Newport Aquarium in Kentucky and Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.
“This conservation and research project is a great example of the cooperation and teamwork between public aquariums that are members of and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA),” said Aquarium Director Allen Monroe. “By working with our national partners, we are able to find temporary homes for these sea turtles, where they can serve as ambassadors for their species and help educate visitors about their plight in the wild.”
PPG Aquarium also brought back for release a two-year-old loggerhead, a 2011 Emerald Isle hatchling. Virginia Living Museum returned a loggerhead, hatched five years ago on Atlantic Beach. Satellite transmitters were epoxied to the shells of these two older turtles, enabling the public as well as researchers to track their travels.
“By using satellite tracking, we can learn more about the migratory patterns and survival of these sea turtles in the wild. But this also allows everyday citizens to follow their progress. It is a great use of technology to help us in learning about these magnificent animals,” Monroe said.
The devices periodically pinpoint the turtles’ locations via satellite technology. The information can be viewed within the next few days at seaturtle.org, a website dedicated to tracking aquatic wildlife. Click on the tracking link and then find the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores Sea Turtle Awareness project on the list. The Aquarium’s website also will provide links to seaturtle.org information when it is available. The small, lightweight transmitters don’t impede maneuverability, and eventually fall off. The Aquarium has released several other tagged turtles in the past few years. The information on all of them is available at seaturtle.org.
The Aquarium works with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) on sea turtle conservation efforts, including caring for imperiled hatchlings. The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Nursery and Sea Turtle Rescue exhibits currently feature several baby loggerheads from this season.
The Aquarium released three turtles in June and another in October from the beach at Fort Macon. The water near shore is too cool for them now; hence the boat trip to the near the Gulf Stream. Loggerhead sea turtles are thought to spend much of their early lives in an expanse of warm water and floating seaweed near the Gulf Stream known as the Sargasso Sea.