Giant leatherback turtle begins the journey back to the ocean

Hi all,
I'm back with the third installment detailing the leatherback rehabilitation and release effort. For those of you just joining, a 655-pound male leatherback sea turtle stranded on Cape Cod and was transported to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation. We faced many challenges with the rare, giant turtle. I am happy to report that we overcame them all and released this endangered turtle back into the wild on September 22, 2012. [See video of the release in this post and see the first mapping data in this post.]

The photo below shows a lift bag being lowered into the tank.  The lift bag has a weight capacity of 3,000 pounds but we used two to increase peace of mind.

As you will notice from the photos, we brought in a lot of help to make sure the job of removing this giant turtle from the rehab tank and transporting the animal to the boat was done safely and quickly to minimize stress for our patient. While we worked to get the forklift in place and the lift bag lowered into the tank, the leatherback rested underwater at the far end of the tank. 

This photo shows the turtle resting as we prepare the lift/transport bag.  This is a great photo of the full length of the tail on this turtle.  Adult male leatherback sea turtles have a large and very long tail as seen in the photo. 

This photo shows the lift bag submerged, while we slowly guide the turtle into the bag.  It is important to note that while I use the term "lift bag," it is rectangular in shape and does not actually close as the name "bag" implies.

The team guides the turtle all the way into the lift bag and then prepares to drain the majority of the water from the bag. 

The turtle as he is being lifted from the pool. The bag obviously obscures the camera's view of the turtle but trust me, he is in there! 

In case there were any non-believers out there...below is a photo of the giant turtle inside the lift bag as our forklift operator, Al, slowly drives the turtle out to a waiting trailer. 

Once outside the building, the turtle in his lift bag was gently placed on waiting stretchers.  Al, our forklift operator, moved this giant turtle so smoothly and gently you would have thought a baby was in there.

The photo below shows the turtle being lowered onto the stretchers.

The New England Aquarium doesn't own an enclosed rescue vehicle to move live, large patients such as this turtle, so we called our partners at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who were glad to lend a hand.

Below the team slowly walks the turtle into the back of the IFAW trailer.  The person on the left is there to safely guide the team onto the ramp and prevent people from stepping off.  The person in the background in red is my colleague Kim Durham, from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation (RFMRP). Kim and the nice folks at the RFMRP were kind enough to lend us a satellite tag for this turtle...and Kim drove it to us overnight. In this photo Kim guides the lifters safely into the back of the truck.

Once in the back of the IFAW animal transport trailer, we secure the lift bag in place to help keep the turtle from bulldozing his way around the inside of the trailer.  Below, New England Aquarium staff members Matt and Tina secure the lift bag to the safety railings. You will notice we tied the turtle's harness to the safety railing as well. Remember, by this point the turtle had responded to the treatments and had regained quite a bit of strength.

Nest stop...the giant turtle is loaded onto a lobster boat and released into Nantucket Sound.  Stay tuned for the release blog.

- Connie


  1. Thats awesome...Such a good rescue. And he's HUGE!! Good job, New England aquarium!!

  2. Fabulous story of teamwork and dedication!