For the past five months, dedicated members of the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) at the National Aquarium in Baltimore have become very familiar with an animal that can best be described as one of nature's mysteries. Stranded off of Bower's Beach in Delaware, this animal appeared to be no ordinary sea turtle. On June 19, 2002, volunteer rescuers from the MERR Institute, a state-designated stranding and response team, responded to a call about a sea turtle that was found near marina dock. It appeared to have been hit by a boat and had been pulled up onto the dock. The rescue team contacted MARP and made arrangements for the animal to transported to Baltimore for long term rehabilitation.
At first glance, the sea turtle appeared to be a Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). The animal had the similar size and coloration of a traditional Loggerhead. Upon further investigation, however, the MARP team noticed that there were some discrepancies in the shape of its carapace, or shell, and its head. These features more closely resembled a Green sea turtle (Cheylonia mydas). When the animal was brought to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the veterinary staff seemed to think that it could possibly be a hybrid, or combination, of the two species of sea turtles. The genetic evidence proving this theory is still pending.
The "Logger/Green", as it was referred to as by the MARP team, had suffered injuries on its head that appeared to be caused by a boat strike. It also had injuries to its right eye, and on the back left side of its carapace, right in front of its back left flipper. This injury had lead to infection in that area. The prognosis for this turtle was not very good when it first arrived. The wounds seemed to be very deep and the veterinary staff was unsure of the possibility for this animal to survive. This was compounded by the fact that for the first 2 months of its stay, it did not eat anything. This is not unusual for sea turtles, especially Loggerheads, as they have a slow metabolism and do not need to eat on a regular basis. The fact that this turtle was injured, however, made the rehabilitation team concerned about its eating habits. The vet staff and MARP team administered IV fluids to the animal to sustain it, but still wondered if the animal was going to make it.
Then it happened...the Logger/Green began to eat. And boy did it eat! Each day the staff fed the animal a variety of food items such as herring, squid, crabs, romaine lettuce, and sea grass. The fascinating thing was that the turtle ate both vegetation and meat. This is not typical of a pure Loggerhead sea turtle, which is carnivorous (eating meat). Green sea turtles, however, are herbivorous (eating vegetation), and the fact that the turtle was eating both encouraged the MARP team's belief that the turtle was a hybrid. Over the course of the following 3 months, the turtle began to eat readily (1 head of romaine, 4 lbs herring, 2lbs squid, 1 whole crab per day) and gained over 7 pounds. On November 5, 2002 the turtle was given one final exit physical and was deemed releasable back into the wild.
With the generous aid and cooperation of MARP team members and veterinary staff, the turtle was transported to the South Carolina Aquarium on November 14, where it was observed and held for the night. The turtle was fitted with a satellite tag that would track its travels and behaviors once released into the ocean. On the beautiful, sunny morning of November 15, 2002, members of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore joined forces to return this animal to its natural habitat in the waters off the coast of Charleston, SC. "Bowers" the sea turtle, as it was named by the MERR Institute volunteers, had found a new life once again in the sea.
The tracking data will give us an idea of what types of environment this mysterious animal inhabits, it success in acclimating to a second chance at life in the wild, and may shed insights regarding the ever decreasing habitat available to these ancestral creatures.