December 12, 2016

Saving Peanut the Sea Turtle

On December 6, 2016, a sea turtle named Peanut was released back into the wild after a seven-month rehabilitation period at Florida's Gumbo Limbo Nature CenterWe got the scoop on this coordinated and collaborative effort from Jordan Hennessey, the president and founder of Shark Sentinels, a conservation organization that works to protect sharks and other marine life in Florida. Here's your chance to go behind the scenes of Peanut's rescue and release!

Peanut sea turtle
Peanut the sea turtle recovers in her pool at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Credit: Jordan Hennessey

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In April 2016, a female loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) was lingering close to the shore of Peanut Island, a small island off the coast of eastern Florida. While the turtle's presence in the area was exciting for local snorkelers, paddle boarders, and kayakers, others wondered if the animal's continued proximity to land meant it needed help.

Casey Tomasiak, a local sea turtle advocate, decided to investigate. Casey was able to photograph the turtle and then send his photos to a friend, Jordan Hennessey, for a second opinion. Together, the friends decided this sea turtle appeared to be in poor condition. The turtle's skin was sunken in, and it looked underweight.

Peanut the sea turtle 1
Wildlife advocates became concerned about this turtle's sickly appearance and behavior and contacted authorities. Credit: Casey Tomasiak

Casey and Jordan reached out to sea turtle conservation and rehab facilities in the area, including the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. After seeing the photos for herself, Whitney Crowder, head of rehab at Gumbo Limbo, agreed that the turtle needed treatment. Whitney reached out to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for permission to coordinate a rescue effort.

sea turtle rescue
Peanut Island lifeguards help bring the sick sea turtle to shore. Credit: Casey Tomasiak

With help from Peanut Island lifeguards, FWC officials brought the turtle, "Peanut," to shore and transported her to Gumbo Limbo. Peanut's body was in a state of deterioration upon rescue, and she was in critical condition upon arrival at the care center. At Gumbo Limbo, staff members x-rayed Peanut, performed blood work, and began the long rehabilitation process.

Peanut x-rays
Peanut receives x-rays. Credit: Keri Ross

The staff's main concern during rehabilitation was helping Peanut gain weight—and gain weight, she did! During her rehabilitation, which spanned seven months, Peanut gained 70 pounds. After reaching a healthy weight (loggerhead turtles often weigh 200-300 pounds), Gumbo Limbo's veterinarian cleared Peanut for release.

On December 6, it was time for Peanut to go home. Jordan from Shark Sentinels was there on release day and described the scene:

"Gumbo Limbo sea turtle releases are always very exciting. The public is invited to come out and watch, and it always draws a crowd—and Peanut was no exception. (The) crowd came out in record numbers, estimated to be near 2,000 people, with more watching from all over via Facebook Live.

People cheered and clapped upon Peanut's arrival to the beach. ... Peanut was lifted by four people and placed on the sand. She wasted no time in heading to her ocean home. As she neared the water, the cheering got louder, with some tears of joy even flowing."

Peanut sea turtle release
Gumbo Limbo staff lifts Peanut and places her on the beach for release. Credit: Jordan Hennessey

Peanut is back home in the ocean, but her former caretakers continue to keep a close eye on her via the tracking device placed on Peanut's shell before release. (You too can monitor Peanut's movements online!) When combined with information collected from other sea turtle trackers, Peanut's location data will help scientists learn more about how loggerhead sea turtles move throughout the ocean.

>> Further Reading: Conservation Q&A With Simon Pierce

Peanut's tracking device
Peanut, with a satellite tracking device on her shell, heads home on release day. Credit: Jordan Hennessey

Like other sea turtles, loggerhead turtles are endangered, and they're an important part of the marine ecosystem. This rescue and release effort is not only a great story for Peanut, an individual sea turtle, but also for the ocean as a whole.

>> Further Reading: Fish Pee, Whale Poo, And Ocean Health

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