MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) - Just in time for sea turtle mating season in the Florida Keys, a large 230-pound male loggerhead turtle, rehabilitated at the Turtle Hospital after being found entangled in crab trap line, was released off Pigeon Key Friday.
"Sheldon," named by his rescuers stationed in the Middle Keys with the U.S. Coast Guard, was discovered in early February near the iconic Old Seven Mile Bridge, whose recently reopened 2.2-mile span connects Marathon with Pigeon Key known for its ties to Henry Flagler's Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.
"It's mating season in the Florida Keys, it's important to get this massive male turtle back out to sea so that he can begin mating and help preserve the species," said Bette Zirkelbach, general manager of the Turtle Hospital. "To be able to take a reproductive male and rehabilitate him in less than two weeks' time, and return him to his ocean home, this is a high for all of us; this is why we do what we do."
Treatment at the turtle rescue facility included wound care, antibiotics, and a healthy diet of mixed seafood, such as fish and squid.
Before being released Friday, Sheldon was fitted with a satellite transmitter tag by research scientists from the Summerland Key-based Mote Marine Laboratory to help them track and study data on migratory and mating patterns of adult male loggerheads.
Sheldon's tagging illustrates the importance of being able to see how these turtles are doing once they are released back into the wild, since males don't return to beaches where they emerged as hatchlings.
"It's critical to conserve sea turtles like Sheldon because almost all species of sea turtles in the world are in danger of being extinct on our watch," said Zirkelbach.
Based on his size and the circumference of his head, Zirkelbach estimates the 230-pound reptile is at least 50 years old, well into his prime as a sexually reproductive male.
The world's first veterinary facility of its kind, the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and returning turtles to the wild for over 30 years.
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