CBSN

Massive leatherback turtle to be released after rescue

Officials say Yawkey, a nearly 500-pound leatherback sea turtle, is set to be released soon following its recovery at the South Carolina Aquarium.

Yawkey was found washed up on shore Saturday at the Yawkey South Island Reserve in Georgetown.

Hospital crews say the 4.5-foot-long turtle was pretty cold when they first checked it out, though blood tests indicated nothing out of the ordinary, and officials didn't find any external trauma.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials gave an update on Yawkey saying the sea turtle was much healthier than when it first arrived. Yawkey is expected to head back into the ocean within a day or two, aquarium officials told CBS affiliate WCSC in South Carolina.

Yawkey is the aquarium's largest rescue to date. It took seven people to move the juvenile turtle, which aquarium staff said weighed in at 475 pounds.

Leatherbacks are among the largest reptiles in the world. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says incidental capture in fishing gear is a primary threat to them. Last year, rescuers came to the aid of an 800-pound leatherback entangled in fishing gear off the coast of New Jersey.

The South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program staff is working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to determine the best place to release Yawkey.

Those at the hospital say this sort of find is a huge step in their research.

"This is only one of maybe five or six leatherbacks that have been stranded alive in North America," said Kelly Thorvalson, manager of the Sea Turtle Rescue Program. "So for us to be able to possibly save it's life, and get it back out into the ocean, it's a really big deal and it's very exciting."