In Pictures – The Incredibly Difficult Rescue of an Incredibly Large South Carolina Leatherback Turtle

by Chris Dixon

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South Carolina Sea Turtle Program Director Kelly Thorvalson and her husband Mike work against time to transport a 500 pound leatherback sea turtle into the sea turtle hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium. All images courtesy: South Carolina Aquarium. 

There was no textbook manual for yesterday’s rescue of a huge leatherback sea turtle from one of the most remote beaches on the East Coast. It’s never happened here in South Carolina, and it’s only happened four or five times in the United States. Leatherbacks are dinosaurian creatures than can top the scales at 2000 pounds when grown. When the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources learned that one of the animals had stranded in the surf at the Yawkey Wildlife Preserve, it took a big 4×4 to power through the marsh mud and sand, and a team of five people just to lift the creature. Though its gender has yet to be determined, it was given the name “Yawkey” after baseball great Tom Yawkey, whose foundation preserved a huge stretch of South Carolina coast where the animal was found. 

Thanks to our friends at the South Carolina Aquarium for sharing the following photos. And stay tuned to the Scut for a profile of Kelly Thorvalson – the real life Medicine Woman of Carolina sea turtles.

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Mike Thorvalson helps guide the lifting of the turtle. Because leatherbacks don’t have a bony carapace, or shell, they must be lifted from beneath.

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They’d never had such a large turtle in the Aquarium. Had they not just released a few rescued loggerheads, they wouldn’t have had a tank that would fit her either.

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Sliding the animal into the clinic on a 4×8′ piece of plywood.

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Mike, Kelsey and Kelly Thorvalson.

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Using an ultrasound to check for damage to body and flippers.

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A few small open wounds on the head.

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Kelly – checking temperature, blood and vitals. The turtle would turn out to be hypoglecemic, corrected by giving it fluids, but most other vitals checked out. As of tonite, it’s responsive and inquisitive. But they’re concerned about a possible GI issue because it hasn’t eaten yet. It’s possible the turtle ingested plastic,

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Improvisation again – foam pads to cushion the belly.

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Getting ready to lift into the Aquarium hospital’s biggest tub.

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Into the tub.

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Breathing in, relaxing and taking in these strange creatures who came to the rescue.

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Read more at Charleston’s Post and Courier:

Rare 500-pound leatherback sea turtle rescued from remote beach near Georgetown

Calling all hands: Leatherback a sizable challenge for sea turtle hospital

 

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