Releasing the giant leatherback!

Okay loyal blog followers...we've finally arrived at the release blog - thank for your interest in this rare and incredible turtle.  From past blogs you know a giant leatherback stranded, was rehabilitated and obviously from the the title of the blog, he was released back into the big blue. [See video of the release in this post and the first mapping data in this post.]

The photo below shows the IFAW animal transport trailer as it backed down the dock to prepare to unload the giant turtle. The yellow machine on the left is the largest forklift I have ever seen - the forks alone were 16 feet long. We called Harwichport Boat Works Inc. to inquire about a forklift and let them know what we were doing; within seconds they not only agreed to help but donated their services! 

Before removing the turtle from the trailer, our colleagues Kara and Mike Dodge applied a satellite tag. Dr. Innis and I have been working with Kara on her long-term field study of leatherback sea turtles. Kara has applied satellite tags to many turtles throughout her research so it made sense to bring in the experts. 

In the photo below Kara and Mike Dodge complete the final stage of the tag application while Dr. Innis monitors the turtle.

The satellite tag sits on a protective putty-like substance to ensure that the tag does not scratch or otherwise irritate the skin of the turtle.  Leatherback sea turtles get their name from the smooth leathery skin covering their carapace (upper shell). 

Dan, the Harwichport Boat Works operator, slowly advances the long forks into the trailer to pick up the lift bag. 

The fork truck operator picked this turtle up with gentle and careful movements that didn't seem possible for such a large piece of equipment. The turtle didn't move much during this part of the transport, which was comforting to all of us. 

Our enormous patient was placed so gently on the boat waiting below that it was difficult to believe their was a giant turtle in there. This is a great photo of the forks as they lowered the turtle onto the deck of a lobster boat. Boat captain Mark Leach, who captains his vessel for our field research, made his boat ready for the precious cargo. 

Word must have leaked out because we had a small gathering of folks at the dock to see us off. 

In the photo below Kim Durham, RFMRP biologist, begins to flatten the lift bag to allow the turtle more room. The turtle is also hosed with water to keep him cool and moist. 

Dr. Charles Innis, the Aquarium's Director of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Health, monitors the turtle's respiratory rate during the boat ride to the release it. You can see a moist towel covering the eyes of the turtle. This is a technique used to reduce stress. 

The release team turns the lift bag to face the giant turtle toward the stern of the vessel. 

The pre-release photo below provides a good look at how much of this turtle's front right flipper was missing upon stranding. The injury was not fresh and the tissue was healing nicely.  

The giant turtle as he begins to push off the back of the vessel.

As he re-enters the big blue...

This turtle went into a long dive upon entering the ocean.

The satellite tag has been transmitting data since this rare, giant leatherback was released.  No spoilers here folks, you'll have to checkout the next blog if you want to see where he went and how we think he is doing thus far.

Thanks to those of you who have contacted us with words of support. We are grateful for your encouragement.

- Connie

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