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Sea turtles leave Baltimore after winter rehabilitation

SUVs and CrossoversNational Aquarium Baltimore

Three endangered sea turtles that spent the winter in Baltimore departed Saturday evening, joining a caravan of at least 43 others bound for Florida's warm waters and a return to their natural habitat.

The three turtles — Chet, Biff and Two-Bit — were among more than 200 sea turtles to wash ashore on Massachusetts beaches, critically ill with hypothermia, last November and December. When The New England Aquarium's sea turtle hospital reached capacity, rescuers reached out to other facilities up and down the East Coast to find foster homes. The National Aquarium brought in a total of 13, five of which have already moved on either to be reintroduced to the wild or to other facilities. While in Baltimore, the turtles were rehabilitated under the watchful eye of a team of veterinarians and stranding coordinator Jennifer Dittmar at the aquarium's off-site animal care facility in Fells Point.

Chet is a Kemp's Ridley turtle, the smallest of all sea turtle species, while Biff is a green sea turtle. They weigh between six and 10 pounds. Two-Bit, a loggerhead, is anything but what his name suggests. He weighs between 60 and 70 pounds.

Dittmar said the decision to release the turtles was made after close medical examination to make sure the turtles were gaining weight and staying healthy. Her team also monitors the animals to ensure they will be able to survive in the wild.

She is accompanying the Baltimore trio, which had been loaded into crates Saturday afternoon and covered with a water-based lubricant. The turtles can breathe air but have membranes that must remain hydrated.

They were packed into one of four SUVs that left early Saturday from Maine, then stopped in Connecticut before working down the coast on what has been dubbed the "Sea Turtle Trek." By 7:45 p.m. Saturday, the aquarium had posted video of the packed-up SUVs heading out of Fells Point.

There's a planned stop in Virginia Beach as well as a possible last-minute detour to South Carolina before the long, uninterrupted drive south to Jacksonville, Fla., where officials from the state's fish and wildlife agency will oversee the last leg of the journey, a slow march into the surf late Sunday morning.

chris.korman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskorman

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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