One spoiled rare turtle released off South Carolina

Kelly Thorvalson of the South Carolina Aquarium releases Merigo, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, into the sea Friday.

WADMALAW — Some turtles are just born lucky. Merigo, a rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, could have died of cold stunning last winter.

Sea turtle releases

To date, the South Carolina Aquarium has released 99 rehabilitated sea turtles since 2000. By species they are:

50 — Loggerhead

29 — Kemp’s ridley

19 — Green

1 — Hybrid (cross between a loggerhead and a green)



For more information about releases and to track radio-tagged sea turtles, go to www.scaquarium.org and click “Conservation and Research.” For information about sea turtles and nesting, go to www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle.

Instead, the turtle hitched a ride on a million-dollar jet with leather seats to South Carolina Aquarium, where it was rehabilitated.

Coming Monday

Read more about John Hill and his volunteer effort for the sea turtle rescue program. In News

On Friday, it was released back to sea — aboard a 66-foot-long, custom-built, wood-paneled sports fishing yacht.

Now, that’s spoiled. You almost expected Merigo to call for room service as it plunged back in the water.

On top of that, the Kemp’s ridley is the rarest of the seven sea turtle species — all of them considered endangered.

Merigo was joined in the yacht by Charlie, a 150-pound loggerhead rehabbed at the aquarium, and a green sea turtle transported from the National Aquarium, Baltimore, for the release.

Offshore release is mandated from October through April by S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the permitting agency, based on federal water temperature data. The prime temperature for release is considered to be about 70 degrees.

The jet ride had been donated by an aerospace company chief executive, because his jet happened to be in New England for demonstration rides.

The yacht ride was donated by John Hill, a Wadmalaw resident, corporate executive and sportsman with a passion for conserving wildlife and a soft spot for sea turtles.

It’s his fourth trip offshore to release turtles for the aquarium and S.C. Department of Natural Resources. He has taken them as far as the Gulf Stream, 60 miles offshore.

“Part of it is they’re sort of vulnerable, to being struck, to disease. While they’re hardy, they’re also vulnerable,” Hill said, then he smiled at himself. He couldn’t help adding, “And they’re just so cute.”

The aquarium program treats and rehabilitates sick or injured sea turtles, trying to return as many as possible to the wild. The Baltimore aquarium also rehabs sea turtles. Staff transported the green to join the warmer-water release.

“The animal rescue community is a really tight knit community. We are team oriented,” said Amber White, National Aquarium husbandry aide in the turtle program.

For her part, Merigo kept an aloof sort of poise aboard the tony yacht and flippered away without even a wink.

White couldn’t be quite so blase. Asked about taking a yacht ride to a release, she grinned and gave a thumbs-up.

“This never happens,” she said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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