Dry Tortugas park rangers found and rescued a seriously injured 200 pound female loggerhead turtle in the shallows off Loggerhead Key near Fort Jefferson in park waters on Sunday, August 30th.
Protection ranger Sean Isham spotted the injured turtle while on patrol and noticed that the turtle didn’t move when approached. Further investigation revaled that the turtle was seriously injured, so Isham called for assistance. It took several hours and several park rangers and volunteers to maneuver the 200 pound turtle onto one of the park boats.
Park bio-technician Kayla Nimmo described the injuries as serious, with significant damage to both front flippers. Very little remained of the right and the left had several lacerations and the end missing. She also has lacerations above her left eye and a few chips taken out of her shell. Kayla took the lead on the turtle’s care once safely back on Garden Key and set up round-the-clock care for the turtle until it could be transported off island to a turtle hospital in the nearby Keys.
Park staff learned that the turtle, who was wearing a satellite tag, was named “Wham” and was part of a research program of Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota on the west coast of Florida. Wham had been custom-fit with a satellite tag on May 28th. Mote researchers had been following her migration from Casey Key off Sarasota to Cuba, when she took an unexpected turn back toward the Dry Tortugas. Most of the turtles usually go from Cuba to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula this time of year.
A representative of the lab speculated the damage to the turtle was likely due to a shark attack off Cuba earlier this month in an area where turtles stop for a brief period before moving on to Mexico. Wham's movements appeared to have slowed down while in the waters off Cuba. It appeared that the attack may have been from a tiger shark, as they are known to feed on sea turtles, he said.
Wham may have tried to make it to Mexico, but swimming against a strong current was no easy task and the current may have pushed her toward the Dry Tortugas and eventually Loggerhead Key.
Once transported to the turtle hospital, executive director Ryan Butts notified park staff that he was optimistic about Wham's recovery and potential release back into the wild, despite losing a limb. Wham will undergo surgery to repair the flipper that was chewed off; recovery time is anticipated to be four to six months.