HARWICHPORT, Mass. — A 7-foot-long, 655-pound leatherback sea turtle found stranded near the tip of Cape Cod last week was released back into the wild after being treated for dehydration, trauma and shock, officials with the New England Aquarium in Boston said Sunday.
The turtle was found near death off the Truro shore on Thursday. Experts said it was underweight, lethargic and a large portion of its left front flipper was missing because of some kind of trauma. Aquarium officials say it may have become entangled in a vertical line of a lobster pot or boat mooring.
Veterinarians treated it with several drugs to stabilize its blood values and oxygen levels.
Aquarium officials say the turtle regained its strength, and they released it a couple miles off the Harwichport coast on Saturday. They say its prognosis isn’t clear.
Experts treated the turtle using information they obtained from research on leatherbacks over the past few summers.
Aquarium head veterinarian Charles Innis and rescue director Connie Merigo, who have rehabilitated nearly 1,000 sea turtles of smaller species, examined many leatherbacks weighing 400 to 1,000 pounds that they caught briefly and released off the cape and the islands, with the help of University of New Hampshire sea turtle researcher Kara Dodge.
The experts performed physical exams and collected tissue samples, and they used the information they obtained to treat the stranded leatherback.
Leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species and the largest reptile in the world. Aquarium officials say they migrate up the East Coast each June to feed on jellyfish in Massachusetts waters, and migrate back south for the winter in September and October.
The leatherback found Thursday was taken for treatment at the aquarium’s new marine animal care center in the former Quincy Shipyard. Rescuers used a dolphin stranding transport cart and a vehicle owned by the Cape Cod-based International Fund for Animal Welfare to bring it to the care center, where it was put into a pool.
After the turtle regained its strength, aquarium officials used a heavy tarp and forklift to load it into a vehicle that brought it to Harwichport. It was placed on the deck of a lobster boat and released with a tracking devise.
“He dove deep right away and did not re-surface within sight of the boat,” aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said in a statement. “That is normal behavior for healthy leatherbacks that had been handled during the research field work. A couple of early hits came in off of his satellite tag indicating that he was moving.”