After Beach Stranding, a 475-Pound Sea Turtle Is Back Home in the Ocean

It’s the first successful rescue and release of a leatherback sea turtle in South Carolina’s history.

Yawkey being released on March 12. (Photo: South Carolina Aquarium/Getty Images)

Mar 12, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Yawkey is a 475-pound leatherback sea turtle that’s had quite a week.

The giant turtle was found stranded on a remote beach off South Carolina’s coast, in the Yawkey–South Island Reserve —the origin of its name.

Usually, a leatherback turtle stuck ashore means death, but wildlife officials at the state’s Department of Natural Resources weren’t going to let that happen on their watch.

The team managed to move the massive animal safely from the beach to the South Carolina Aquarium. After just five days of treatment and recovery, Yawkey returned to the ocean—completing the first rescue of this species in the history of South Carolina.

Yawkey being rescued for treatment, March 7, 2014.
(Photo: South Carolina Aquarium/Getty Images)

Photos posted by the South Carolina Aquarium show the turtle making its way back to sea during its release on Thursday at a beach on the Isle of Palms.

“I couldn’t think of a harder beach to get a 500-pound turtle off of,” state wildlife biologist Jenna Cormany told The Post and Courier, adding that took five staff members just to lift the reptile into a truck bed for transfer.

Cormany said the turtle looked sick, but it immediately responded to treatments of fluids, vitamins, and antibiotics, and it was cleared for release Thursday morning.

Even though it’s pushing 500 pounds, Yawkey is still considered an adolescent. The turtle is around 10 years old, but its gender can’t be determined just yet because it is still too young to have a mature reproductive system. The species usually migrates along the Atlantic Coast but doesn’t typically get close to shore. Leatherbacks have suffered major population declines and have endangered species protections under federal law.

“Leatherback sea turtles can endure much cooler temperatures than other sea turtle species, so Yawkey was acclimated to coastal temperatures in his/her tank,” the South Carolina Aquarium posted on its Facebook page.

Now, Yawkey is back at sea with a new shot at life. That’s one more chance for this endangered species to survive.

Yawkey swimming away after being released on March 12, 2014. (Photo: South Carolina Aquarium/Getty Images)