NC Aquarium releases 60 sea turtles offshore

Filed under: Pine Knoll Shores by pineknollshores on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
(11-05-2014) Michele Lamping releasing turtles, NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Michele Lamping of the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores releases 2 hatchlings, among 60 sea turtles released Nov. 5, 2014.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores celebrated success stories large and small Wednesday, as 60 sea turtles swam away into the Atlantic Ocean. The animals, which would not have survived without help, were released 32 miles offshore, near the Gulf Stream’s warm waters.

Among them were 33 tiny loggerhead hatchlings that have spent just a few days or weeks at the Aquarium. Another four loggerheads have been at the Aquarium a year as part of educational programs and exhibits. The turtles were left behind in nests on area beaches and couldn’t make it to the ocean on their own. The Aquarium annually cares for dozens of hatchlings like these in need of assistance.

Six more loggerheads released Wednesday had arrived at the Aquarium under similar circumstances after hatching on Emerald Isle beaches in 2012 and 2013. They have spent the time since at other aquariums as part of educational programs on sea turtle conservation – Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, National Aquarium in Baltimore, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey.

Representatives from those aquariums brought the turtles back,  joined in the release and picked up loggerhead hatchlings  to take back.The traveling turtles all came from Emerald Isle nests.

Aquarist Michele Lamping, who cares for sea turtles at the Aquarium, and other husbandry staff members have coordinated the loan program and the annual release for several years, in cooperation with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Though some of the participating aquariums have older sea turtles, they wouldn’t be able to exhibit hatchlings without the program. Sending the little local turtles elsewhere helps the facilities spread the message about these marine reptiles, the perils they face and North Carolina’s efforts to help them.

“The end goal is to take the North Carolina sea turtle conservation story around the country,” Lamping said.

In addition to the turtles from the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the loan program, four yearlings from the Virginia Aquarium, a dozen loggerhead hatchlings from the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach and a young green sea turtle from the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island got a lift. The green turtle was the first off the boat, about five miles from Beaufort Inlet. Green turtles tend to linger closer to shore to feed this time of year.

An older loggerhead went back to sea from the beach on Tuesday. Named Barnacle, the turtle was entangled in rope and a float when rescued off Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills. Aquarium veterinarians deemed the 100-pound turtle big enough and the water warm enough for a beach release.

The water near shore is too cool for hatchlings; hence the boat trip. 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.

The Aquarium works with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission on sea turtle conservation efforts, including caring for distressed hatchlings as well as older animals that get too cold in winter.

Ten of the older turtles are sporting satellite tags so their travels can be tracked. Check back for links and updates on their progress.

Check the Aquarium’s website later for information on tracking 10 of the older turtles via satellite