Rare and Endangered 475-pound Leatherback Sea Turtle Returns to the Wild After Rehabilitation at the South Carolina Aquarium

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One of the Largest Reptiles in the World Successfully Treated at South Carolina Aquarium

Yawkey, an endangered leatherback sea turtle found washed ashore in the Lowcountry earlier this week is headed back to open water. The turtle was released earlier today on the Isle of Palms, S.C. by the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

For photos and video of the release click here.

Representatives from the Sea Turtle Rescue Program and SCDNR worked together to transport the massive animal from the Aquarium to the Isle of Palms. The team carried Yawkey in a custom container, donated by C-Con LLC, to the waterline and released the turtle back into the Atlantic Ocean. To ensure the safest return of Yawkey to the wild, the release was not open to the public.

The sea turtle, found by SCDNR on Yawkey-South Island Reserve near Georgetown S.C. last Saturday, March 7, is one of the few live leatherback strandings reported in the United States, and the first in South Carolina history. Despite being lethargic, there were no signs of external trauma and bloodwork showed the animal to be in overall good shape. Sea Turtle Rescue Program team members are unsure of what caused the turtle to strand. During Yawkey’s stay in the hospital, the animal was given antibiotics, fluids and vitamins. Over the course of a few days, the turtle immediately responded to treatments, enabling the Aquarium’s veterinarian to clear him/her for release.
Due to the fact that leatherback sea turtles do poorly in a captive environment, it was priority for Sea Turtle Hospital team members to return Yawkey to the wild as quickly as possible.

Despite being cold-blooded reptiles, leatherback sea turtles can generate some body heat and can endure much cooler temperatures than other sea turtle species. Coastal water temperatures off of Charleston are approximately 58 degrees F, so Yawkey was acclimated to coastal temperatures in his/her tank by use of a water chiller. The turtle has been tagged by SCDNR with a PIT tag (microchip) as well as flipper tags.

Fast Facts:

  • 475-pound endangered leatherback sea turtle returned to the wild after treatment at the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program
  • Rare turtle was released on the Isle of Palms, S.C.
  • First live stranding of a leatherback sea turtle in South Carolina
  • During the spring and fall seasons, leatherback sea turtles migrate
  • Leatherback sea turtles are listed as an endangered species
  • Leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtles on earth
  • For photos and video of the release click here

As patients such as Yawkey receive treatment and are released, it is important now more than ever to execute the planned expansion of the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital. In 2016, the Aquarium will open a state-of-the-art Sea Turtle Hospital on the Aquarium’s first floor. This project will significantly grow the capacity to rescue, rehabilitate, and release threatened and endangered sea turtles such as Yawkey. The new facility will be equipped with triage units, a private intensive care unit, deeper tanks, an exercise pool, laser technology, and additional laboratory and life-support space. The expansion of the hospital onto the Aquarium’s first floor will expose this transformational learning experience to our 430,000 annual visitors (only 16,000 visitors currently tour the hospital annually). As a non-profit, the Aquarium looks to the community to support the construction of this hospital. To help us expand the sea turtle hospital, click here.

What can you do?:
You can help protect threatened and endangered sea turtles. If you find a sick or injured sea turtle, contact the SCDNR sea turtle hotline at (800) 922-5431. You may also help care for sea turtles in recovery in the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program by going to scaquarium.org and making a donation.

To read about our patients or track their recovery progress, visit our Sea Turtle Rescue Program blog at scaquarium.org. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates from the hospital, including public sea turtle release details.

For all media inquiries, please contact Kate Dittloff at (843) 579-8660 or kdittloff(at)scaquarium(dot)org

About the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program:
In partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program works to rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles that strand along the South Carolina coast. Located in the Aquarium, the Sea Turtle Hospital admits 20 to 30 sea turtles each year. Many of these animals are in critical condition and some are too sick to save.

According to SCDNR, during the past 10 years the average number of sea turtle standings on South Carolina beaches each year is 128. Of these, roughly 10 percent are alive and successfully transported to the Sea Turtle Hospital. To date, the South Carolina Aquarium has successfully rehabilitated and released 155 sea turtles and is currently treating 15 patients. The average cost for each patient’s treatment is $35 per day with the average length of stay reaching nine months.

About the South Carolina Aquarium:
The South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston’s most visited attraction, features thousands of amazing aquatic animals from river otters and sharks to loggerhead turtles in more than 60 exhibits representing the rich biodiversity of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. Dedicated to promoting education and conservation, the Aquarium also presents fabulous views of Charleston harbor and interactive exhibits and programs for visitors of all ages.

The South Carolina Aquarium, a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Aquarium is closed Thanksgiving Day, half day Dec. 24 (open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Dec. 25. Admission prices are: Toddlers (2 and under) free; Youth (3-12) $17.95; Adults (13+) $24.95. The Aquarium plus the 4-D Theater experience is free for Toddlers, $22.95 for Children, $29.95 for Adults. The 4-D Theater experience only is $6.95 for Children and Adults, and free for Members. For more information call 843-720-1990 or visit scaquarium.org. Memberships are available by calling 843-577-FISH.


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Kate Dittloff
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