New England Aquarium staff en route to Virginia release 17 endangered sea turtles

After several months of rehabilitation at the New England Aquarium, 17 endangered sea turtles were released Sunday evening off the coast of Virginia, officials said.

The turtles were rescued off of Cape Cod where they were discovered in the fall suffering from hypothermia, according to a statement from the New England Aquarium.

Staff from the New England Aquarium left Quincy — where the aquarium’s animal care center is located — early Sunday morning to transport the turtles to Virginia. They were released at about 8:30 p.m. near the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula with help from staff at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, the statement said.

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The turtles were placed “in the sand just above the surf where the smell of the open ocean will fill their nostrils, and their flippers will hastily propel them into the water and a return to their home,’’ the statement said.

Along the Massachusetts coast, the warmest waters are approximately 60 degrees, which is too cold for the creatures, officials said. The water off of Virginia ranges in temperature from the low to mid-70s.

The group of turtles includes 15 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and two loggerhead sea turtles, the statement said. Kemp’s ridley turtles are the world’s most endangered sea turtle and the smallest, officials said.

The largest of the 17 turtles is an 80-pound loggerhead turtle named Juggernaut who was rescued by staff and volunteers of the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary weighing much less.

The turtle was suffering from hypothermia, dehydration, malnutrition, as well as a fracture on the lower shell surrounding its rear flippers, the statement said.

To ensure that the turtle gains the strength and mobility necessary in its rear flipper to catch food and escape predators, its caretakers rearranged the in-flow water pipes in its tank, forcing Juggernaut to use the flipper more regularly.

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Juggernaut’s rehabilitation took six months to complete.

“Nothing happens quickly with a turtle,’’ said Connie Merigo, head of the aquarium’s rescue team, in the statement.

Adult loggerhead turtles weigh about 250 pounds, and can grow to about 3 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. They are reddish-brown, with a slightly heart-shaped top shell.

Kemp’s ridley turtles weigh about 100 pounds at adulthood, and can grow to be about 24 to 28 inches in length, the website said. They are grayish-green, with a somewhat circular top shell.

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