Aquarium nursing rare sea turtle back to health


Among the thousands of visitors to the National Aquarium in Baltimore this summer is a rare, endangered sea turtle. But aquarium officials hope his - or her - stay is a short one.

An injured Kemp's ridley sea turtle arrived at the aquarium last week after being rescued near Hoopers Island on the Eastern Shore. The 20-inch turtle, measured by its shell, was found with a recreational fishing hook lodged deep in its throat, just above the stomach, and a flesh injury along the side of its mouth, likely caused by the fishing line.

Kat Hadfield, junior associate veterinarian at the aquarium, said the turtle arrived Wednesday dehydrated and underweight. She conducted a half-hour endoscopic procedure on Friday to remove the 1 1/2 -inch hook. Since then, the turtle has been recuperating in a 1,000-gallon saltwater tank in the aquarium's hospital, where Hadfield monitors its condition and behaviors hourly.

"I love working on these guys," she said. "They're so rare and so important. Each one of them is important."

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service Web site, Kemp's ridley sea turtles dropped from a nesting population of 42,000 in 1947 to an estimated 1,000 in the mid-1980s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species as endangered in 1970.

The turtles nest at only one beach off the Gulf of Mexico, but migrate as far north as New England in the spring and early summer. At 29 pounds, the aquarium's turtle is about one-third of its expected adult weight.

The young turtle, whose sex cannot yet be determined, is being treated through the aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program, which has released about 75 injured animals back into the wild over the past 15 years, said Jennifer Yates, a spokeswoman for the aquarium. "Our mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release," she said. "We've got step one down. We're working on step two."

Aquarium officials said they hope the injury reminds people to take care of fishing gear, not cut lines, reduce boat speeds and report any beached, wounded or stranded sea animals to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"We rely heavily on people locating them on their own to call in the reports," Hadfield said. "That's what saves a lot of these lives."

Hadfield said it's too soon to determine how long it will take the turtle to recover. But so far, the animal hasn't acquired a nickname to replace the aquarium's standard identification system.

"He's 0608LK," Hadfield said. "Very catchy."

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