Friday, April 19, 2024

Crowds gather at Oceanfront to watch Virginia Aquarium release sea turtles

VIRGINIA BEACH — Excited children and their equally excited parents arrived in waves on the Oceanfront Wednesday to watch the release of six sea turtles back into their natural habitat.

Mark Swingle, director of research and conservation at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, told the large crowd the turtles most often end up in the Aquarium’s care after being inadvertently hooked by fishermen, or sometimes because of surface impacts with boats or ships.

Rehabilitation of the sea turtles can take as little as one to two weeks, or as much as two years. Damage to their protective shells can occur when they’re hit by a boat, and that takes longer to repair and heal.

Turtles usually leave the Virginia area as winter arrives and head to warmer waters he said, but sometimes when very cold temperatures hit suddenly, the warm-blooded turtles can suffer “cold stunning” and a rescue is required.

Aquarium staff and volunteers arrived early Wednesday and unloaded the sea turtles. They walked the soon-to-be-free turtles around so the crowd could get a closer look, and also provided basic education about the individual turtles and their species.

Swingle said the Aquarium’s Stranding Response Teams cover the entire state, not just the Hampton Roads area, rehabbing as many as 300 sea turtles a year, as well as about 100 other sea mammals.

“Some days we’re in a whole lot of places all at once,” he said.

The “reluctant star” of the day was Green Apple, a loggerhead that was originally hooked at Ocean View Fishing Pier on Aug. 9, 2017 and was released on Oct. 12, 2017, at Croatan Beach. Green Apple made a return appearance at the Ocean View Fishing Pier on June 13 after being hooked by another recreational angler.

Green Apple had a satellite tag affixed to its shell and Swingle said the sea turtle will be tracked. When the tagged turtles surface, their position is recorded by a satellite.

The sea turtles were released three at a time a few feet from the edge of the water. While some of them raced into the waves and disappeared, a couple moved a little more slowly to freedom.

As each of the sea turtles reached the water and vanished in the surf, the crowd cheered.

Those interested in checking the progress of Green Apple or the other tagged turtles, their tracking can be seen here.

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