Mike Mongo reveals the worlds of marine, shoreline, and in-land eco-biology
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Loggerhead Turtle Rescue
Wow! What a morning! I was headed into shore when I came across this really big turtle with its head sticking up. Since it didn't dive I figured it didn't see me, so I slowed down and maneuvered over towards it. Funny thing, it didn't spook....
So I motored around it for awhile snapping photos, and I started to wonder if it was in some kind of crisis. True, I have been around enough big turtles to know that occasionally they hang out and let you get a good look at them, or even show interest in us, but generally they are out like a shot.
Eventually, I can see that it is letting me get very close to as I very slowly go round it. Something was definitely wrong here.
Pulling up right to it, with my hand I gave it a gentle nudge. It was surely alive but not going anywhere. With engine in neutral, I went to see if I could hold on to it. And indeed it let me grip its shell where its head was protruding. (Believe me, I was careful. That big head comes complete with powerful jaws!) And it let me. This one was in trouble.
I tried to haul it in, but realistically the creature weighed between two and three hundred pounds. In other words, no way. Finally, it did get tired of me handling it and dove down but only around four or five feet. I followed it for a while figuring out what to do. (A coast guard boat came by as I was right in front of the base, but when I attempted waving them down they thought I was just saying hi. Doh!)
What I did do wound up saving the day: I went to shore, and called my good friend Wade Miller. Wade is one of the captains at Danger Charters, and very ecologically-minded, and as luck would have it he had the number for the Turtle Hospital in Marathon. That number was just what the doctor called for. The phone was answered by a young man named Shane told me he was on his way.
In less than an hour he arrived, and we jumped back into my Carolina Skiff and went out to see if the great beast was still with us. To be honest, I was uncertain whether or not we would be able to locate it. I called in my buddy Cliff the Palm Weaver, another animal-loving individual like myself (and one of the most dependable guys I know), who happened to be out there and nearby on his boat.
While I was calling, Shane who was keeping watched spotted our quarry! It was floating on the surface, lifting its head, and only 30-40 yards from where I have parted company with it an hour before! That's when Cliff showed up, and thankfully he did; I am uncertain how we would have managed without him. The turtle was huge! Shane confirmed my original estimation of age: This turtle was in the 90-to-100 year old catgory. As I said earlier, it weighed between 200 and 300 pounds!
Between the three of us, we managed carefully lift it out of the water and as gently as possible flip it into my big skiff. There was a very bad injury on its underside, the shell was cracked but not cracked open (that's good). We immediately headed to shore, and Shane's awaiting ambulance.
We pulled up to the two-hour tie-off outside the window of Half-Shell Raw Bar, where the seats were full with lunch-time crowd. "Get ready to have your minds blown," I announced to the seated diners as we tied off. Then the three of us lifted the big beauty (a boy, you could tell by its claws—hooks on the fins for clasping during mating—and its large tail), and like I said, people were amazed. It was loud ooohs and aaahs the entire time. "So that's a dolphin," I mugged to the crowd, and everyone laughed. It lightened the mood considerably. Lots of people came out to take photos while we went for the "gurney" (dock cart). I would have if I had been them, and they had been me!
A number of fellows came up to help lift the 100-year old on to the gurney, and then kept up with us as we wheeled it over to the ambulance. (Yep, it is an actual ambulance, sirens, lights and all. After all the damage we did to the turtle population in the past, we now take their care seriously here in the future.)
And now it is being treated in Marathon. My thanks to Wade, Shane, Cliff, and the passerby's who helped today. It took all of us to make it happen, and one way or another it was worth the effort!
Posted by Mike Mongo at 4:16 PM