The VLM curatorial staff dedicates countless hours caring for the animals in our care and inevitably gets emotionally attached to them. Some animals, such as our loggerhead sea turtles, become instant favorites. It is a privilege to raise these rare and ancient creatures, but they require a great deal of specialized care and their stubborn nature can test even the most patient aquarist.
Britt epoxies the satellite tag on Abe
Abe, our most recent loggerhead, came to us in October 2013 from North Carolina Aquarium and become one of our favorite animals over the past two years – and grew to over 120 pounds! As part of our partnership with North Carolina, we return our loggerhead to the waters where they were born to be tagged and set free. The releases are always bittersweet events for us.
On October 19th VLM aquarists Patrycja Lawryniuk and Britt Sorensen transported Abe back to her home in Atlantic Beach, NC. It is stressful for a sea turtle to be out of water for long, but Abe handled it very well! She was put in a holding tank upon arrival at the Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, where she swam and slept overnight until it was time to tag her the next day. They joined representatives from nearly a dozen other facilities as far away as the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey to epoxy satellite tags to the carapaces of Abe and over 20 other sea turtles. Most of the turtles were under two years old and much smaller than Abe, so our beautiful 120-pound, 4-year-old stood out like a celebrity!
On the morning of the 21st the turtles, their caretakers, volunteers and guests gathered aboard the charter vessel Carolina Princess, while a select few loaded Abe onto a smaller boat that would give Abe easier access to the water and allow those on board to video the releases. Both boats reached the Gulf Stream after a three hour trip, and Patrycja hopped into the ocean with a GoPro to film the releases from the water. Abe was the first to go. She was lifted from the boat and into the water, gracefully swimming away at full speed into the open ocean.
Everyone took a brief moment to say goodbye, then turned the attention and cameras to the other boat. Michelle Lamping, program coordinator from NC Aquarium, loaded each of the other turtles into separate baskets and lowered them into the water. Some turtles took a moment to orient themselves, but all of them instinctively swam away, disappearing into the vast ocean.
Being able to release her into her natural habitat has been our goal from day one and we couldn’t be more proud to watch Abe silently swim off into the ocean.
Interested in following Abe’s journey? Visit http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?tag_id=153496 to watch his journey