- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A crowd gathered on a Point Lookout State Park beach Saturday afternoon to watch seven sea turtles slowly saunter into the water after going through months of rehabilitation.
The turtles, one green and six Kemp’s ridleys, were celebrities if for only moments as their handlers released them amid cheers and a barrage of photographs from gathered beachgoers.
“We’ve got a pretty nice following today,” said Christy Bright, park manager at Point Lookout.
She said that park staff informed visitors about the turtle release and posted signs on buildings at the park. They used an intercom system at the beach to alert visitors, through a Spanish language translator, when the release was about to begin Saturday afternoon.
Three of the turtles came from the National Aquarium in Baltimore; they marked the 100th, 101st and 102nd successfully rehabilitated marine animals for the organization.
The other turtles were released by staff from the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Mass., which helps stranded or distressed sea turtles.
A particularly cold 2012 season stunned sea turtles in record numbers, according to the aquarium. The aquarium in Baltimore helped by taking in 13 sea turtles for rehabilitation last December.
Several were taken to Florida for rehab and released earlier this year. One loggerhead turtle is still undergoing rehab at the National Aquarium.
Point Lookout offers an ideal release spot because of the salinity and water temperature this time of year, said Jennifer Dittmar, who oversees the aquarium’s animal rescue operations.
“The mid-bay area is a very common area for sea turtles to hang out in this time of the year,” Dittmar said.
The beach at Point Lookout offers an easy, low-energy route for the turtles to make their re-entry into the wild, she said.
Other turtles have been released directly into the Atlantic Ocean, especially if it is later in the summer when the ocean’s water temperature is higher, she said.
Duckie and Bender, two Kemp’s ridley turtles, and Willard, a green turtle, were special to the aquarium’s staff because of the historic benchmark of reaching the aquarium’s 100th rehabilitated marine animal, Dittmar said.
The aquarium began its rehabilitation program for the sea turtles and other marine life found along the Delmarva peninsula in 1991. They released their 50th animal in 2003.
The rescue team has cared for seals, sea turtles, rough-toothed dolphins, a harbor porpoise, a pygmy sperm whale and a manatee over the years, with the goal of returning the animals healthy to their natural habitats.
Sea turtles frequent the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months as a source for food. The three released last weekend will likely stay in the bay for the rest of the summer before migrating south in the fall, according to the aquarium’s staff.
In the past, some sea turtles were tagged with location transmitters before they were released. The seven returned to the wild Saturday did not have the transmitters.