Every year in early December, a few Sea Turtle Rescue Program staff and volunteers make the trek down to The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys for a sea turtle rehabilitation conference. Not only does the conference provide amazing networking and learning opportunities, but it also gives us a great reason to visit other sea turtle rehab facilities in Georgia and Florida and keep up-to-date on the latest rehab techniques and turtle gossip. This year, the trek to Florida was truly memorable thanks to our four-flippered traveling companion, King. This juvenile Kemp’s ridley was medically cleared just in time to join staff members Christi and Whitney and volunteers Linda and Sherry on a road trip to Cape Canaveral National Seashore for release back into the wild.
Admitted last May after being caught by a fisherman on hook-and-line, we initially thought King’s stay in our hospital would be relatively short as his injuries were not severe. Then the dreaded neck abscess (a fairly benign problem that occurs in a small number of hospitalized sea turtles) began forming on the soft tissues of King’s neck. Two surgeries later, King was finally ready to return to the Atlantic Ocean in early December.
Cape Canaveral National Seashore is an ideal release location for Kemp’s ridleys during December, as juveniles of this species commonly overwinter in these warmer southern waters. After an uneventful 6-hour drive from chilly Charleston, during which King relaxed on his comfy bed of hospital-grade foam, we were greeted at Cape Canaveral by excited National Park Service employees and lots of warm sunshine. Following a few photos with the turtle crew, King was set on the warm sand. As soon as the 78°F water flowed over his head and flippers, King took off like a shot and headed straight into the ocean without any hesitation whatsoever! It was an amazing release and, for the four of us from the Aquarium who helped admit and treat King over the past 6 months, it was the perfect ending to his story and a great beginning to the holiday season.
Happy Holidays from the South Carolina Aquarium!
Sea Turtle Biologist