Turtle returning to Gulf more than year after Ike

Published 9:18 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An endangered sea turtle that apparently was washed miles inshore by Hurricane Ike and spent months trapped in a land-locked pond in southwest Louisiana is being released back into the Gulf of Mexico.

The 90-pound, 4 1/2-foot-long female is the largest Kemp’s ridley turtle rescued since the sea turtle rescue program began 10 years ago, said Michele Kelley, Louisiana marine mammal and sea turtle stranding coordinator. The turtle’s shell is 3 feet across.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which helped rescue the turtle, also paid for a satellite tag that will let biologists follow her progress on the Internet after the animal’s release Wednesday off Grand Isle, Kelley said.

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“Every time she surfaces the satellite’ll pick it up and send a signal from the tag to seaturtle.org,” Kelley said.

A truck driver spotted the turtle Jan. 29 in a 300-by-100-foot-wide pond in Vermilion Parish, near the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge.

Biologists think it was washed ashore when Ike struck Sept. 13, 2008.

The pond, in a salt marsh, had plenty of crabs, fish and shrimp for the turtle to eat, but she couldn’t get out. And the water is so murky that Wildlife and Fisheries biologists had to visit five times just to get a photograph of her.

“A sea turtle can hold its breath for hours on end,” Kelley said. The photo was fuzzy, but did show the head of an “incredibly large” sea turtle, she said.