Endangered Turtles To Swim Free After Stay In Keys Hospital

Dec 10, 2014

Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach checks the heart rate of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle. The hospital has treated and released nine of the critically endangered turtles, which were stunned by cold in New England and shipped to Florida for recovery.
Credit Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

Nine Kemp's ridley sea turtles have been released from the Turtle Hospital in Marathon and will be returned to the sea off northern Florida's Atlantic coast.

They are part of a group of 193 Kemp's ridley turtles sent to Florida from New England last month, after an early cold snap caught them before their annual migration south.

"We took radiographs, bloodwork, physical examinations. We gave them in-water tests and observed them," said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Marathon facility that treats sick and injured sea turtles. "They essentially had no abnormalities. They were healthy turtles, just had to be warmed up."

The Turtle Hospital is still treating 18 of the Kemp's ridley turtles that are suffering from fungal pneumonia. Three of the turtles sent to Marathon have died.

Kemp's ridleys are the rarest of the four sea turtles that swim in Florida's waters. The others are loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles.

"They're critically endangered," Zirkelbach said.

And while Kemp's ridleys don't nest in Florida, they do have a connection to the Keys. They are named for Richard Kemp, a Key West fisherman who found a strange-looking turtle in 1880 and sent it to Harvard for identification.