New England Aquarium Releases “Munchkin” a Rehabilitated Loggerhead Sea Turtle into the Wild

Photos: Eve Zuckoff, NRP Cape, Islands, and Coast

We LOVE stories like this one!  Last Tuesday, the New England Aquarium released back into the wild Munchkin, the largest sea turtle it had ever rehabilitated — it was found last November on a Massachusetts beach emaciated and near death after being entangled in debris, most likely a lobster trap line.  According to the local National Public Radio station, there were hundreds of spectators crowded onto the same beach where she was recovered to watch volunteers and scientists from the New England Aquarium get the 340 lb female of breeding age onto the sand, where she promptly “raced down the beach, pausing just before she dove back into the water.”

Why This Matters:  Loggerhead turtles, a threatened species, are having a banner nesting year, according to the University of Georgia’s sea turtle project, and are on track to break a record for the most nests ever.  But out of each 1000 hatchlings, only 1 will survive so we need all the breeding age moms we can get.  Scientists hope to learn from her too — she is wearing a satellite tag and they will track her movements for the next year.  But none of this would have been possible without the dedicated volunteers who rescued her, got her to the Aquarium, and the Aquarium’s rehab center. My family and I (Monica) were lucky enough to see nearly a hundred nests last week at Sea Island, Georgia and we volunteered for the dawn turtle patrol ourselves.  What a thrill.

Rescued Just In the Nick of Time.

At the time she was rescued, Munchkin was, according to The Boston Globe, and the Aquarium “deeply lethargic, emaciated, and covered in large barnacles,” as well as missing part of her back flipper and more than half of her front flipper.

  • The veterinarians recalled that Muchkin “had some really chronic, severe anemia. Her blood loss was from when she lost part of her flippers. And then she wasn’t eating, not able to forge.”

  • Even though her flippers had healed before she beached, she was too weak to get to warmer water and would have died of the cold. In the hospital, she regained 29 pounds and then she was ready to be released.

  • But then they had to wait until the water temperatures in Cape Cod reached 60 degrees, the minimum temperatures for her release.

Banner Year For Loggerheads.

  • “We are now approximately halfway through the annual nesting season along the southeastern coast of the United States, and volunteers have recorded more than 10,000 loggerhead sea turtle nests and reported them to the Northern Recovery Unit Loggerhead DNA Project,” which is housed in University of Georgia’s School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
  • The highest number of nests recorded was 11,321 in 2016.
  • “There’s no question in my mind that we will break that record,” said Joe Nairn, who tracks female loggerheads by using the DNA extracted from their eggshells.
  • Amazingly, Military.com reported that biologists have documented nests of four different species of sea turtle — two of them rare — on beaches at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida — including loggerhead and green sea turtles, both considered threatened, and leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, both considered endangered, according to Kathy Gault, an Eglin Air Force Base biologist.

To Go Deeper: You can track Munchkin’s whereabouts on the New England Aquarium website here.

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