More than seven months after it was rescued in Wellfleet, emaciated and near death, the largest loggerhead sea turtle ever to be rehabilitated in the region was released Tuesday at West Dennis Beach, the New England Aquarium said.
The turtle, dubbed Munchkin, was rescued in November 2018 by the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. She was “deeply lethargic, emaciated, and covered in large barnacles,” as well as missing part of her back flipper and more than half of her front flipper, the aquarium said.
Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the wounds are consistent with those caused by the vertical lines used in lobster fishing.
“We are not 100 percent sure, but it has all hallmarks of entanglement injury,” he said. “It’s not a shark bite.”
To make matters worse, Munchkin was hypothermic and unable to migrate to warmer waters, the aquarium said. She was moved to the aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy.
“The biggest challenge was anemia,” LaCasse said. “She had some really chronic, severe anemia. Her blood loss was from when she lost part of her flippers. And then she wasn’t eating, not able to forge.”
Munchkin’s flippers healed while still in the wild, and after gaining 29 pounds during her time at the hospital, she was ready to be realeased.
In addition, the water temperatures in Cape Cod have just reached 60 degrees, the minimum temperatures for her release, the aquarium said.
Although weighs 330 pounds and required up to 12 people to lift her, Munchkin is a “pretty laid-back” sea turtle, LaCasse said.
“Sea turtles in general, even when they’re enormous, they’re not aggressive,” he said. “They’re really beautiful creatures, and … they each have a different personality.”
More than 300 threatened and endangered sea turtles were rescued and released by the New England Aquarium’s marine rescue team in 2018, mostly during November and December, LaCasse said. These turtles are very important to the marine environment, he said, adding that Munchkin is especially important because she is old enough to reproduce.
“For every 1,000 hatchlings that come out of sand … only one survives to be an adult,” LaCasse said. “She survived nature’s lottery.”
Munchkin was released at 6 p.m. and will be outfitted with a satellite tag that will transmit her location and other data to biologists, the aquarium said.
“There were a couple hundred people on the beach, and she was pretty excited,” Lacasse said. “She turned to look back at us before walking into the water.”