National Aquarium Releases Rehabilitated Rescued Sea Turtles as Congress Considers the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act  

Locally rescued turtle, Glockenspiel, was released earlier this month

The National Aquarium Animal Rescue team is eight turtles closer to wrapping up the 2022-2023 cold-stun sea turtle rescue season after recently releasing 22 rehabilitated sea turtles on April 26 at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, and one very special local loggerhead on May 10 here in Maryland. These releases are the second and third of the 2022-2023 sea turtle rescue season after an initial release of 25 turtles on February 22 in St. Augustine, Florida.

The May 10 release marked the return of one locally rescued loggerhead turtle nicknamed Glockenspiel back to the ocean. As opposed to the majority of rescued sea turtles that rehabilitate at the National Aquarium as a result of cold-stunning in New England, Glockenspiel was rescued locally by Maryland Natural Resource Police officers after Eastern Shore residents, Herb Floyd and Rhonda Franz-Floyd, encountered the sub-adult turtle while out on their boat fishing in the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Choptank River. Noticing that the turtle was inactive and seemingly unable to move itself away from their boat, the Floyds reported the distressed animal to the National Aquarium's Animal Rescue hotline.

At the time of his rescue in August 2022, Glockenspiel was malnourished and too weak to swim according to National Aquarium Animal Rescue. Weighing in at approximately 100 pounds, experts assessed that this turtle was approximately 15-to-20-years old based on the length of its carapace or shell. A full medical exam including diagnostic imaging through CT scans and radiographs revealed that Glockenspiel was suffering from a potentially fatal lung infection as well as severe gastrointestinal inflammation and exhibited extreme difficulty eating. Treatment, including intravenously administered nutrition, fluids and antibiotics, and nebulizer treatments were prescribed by Animal Health veterinarians to support the turtle's recovery.

Glockenspiel's case presented challenges for Animal Rescue and Animal Health staff and his rehabilitation took approximately nine months. "Glockenspiel proved to be a very picky eater," said Rehabilitation Manager Caitlin Bovery. "While loggerhead sea turtles naturally eat a wide variety of prey—blue crabs, horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, mollusks—Glockenspiel would only eat mackerel fillets at first."

After completing a full course of treatment and proving ready to swim and forage independently—and with the Floyds on hand to wish him farewell—Glockenspiel returned to the ocean at Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland.

The timing of Glockenspiel's release coincided with an announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide $500,000 to support organizations who provide sea turtle stranding response and/or rehabilitation. Championed by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and secured in the federal budget passed in December, this funding represents the first ever direct federal support for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles.

"Sea turtles are a vital part of our ocean habitats and ecosystems, but every species is endangered. The National Aquarium works to recover and rehabilitate these magnificent and ancient creatures, as well as many other aquatic treasures. These recent releases of rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles show the importance of their ongoing efforts and why we fought to secure federal funding to support the Aquarium's work," said Senator Van Hollen.

In an ongoing effort to increase funding for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation at the federal level, the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act was recently reintroduced, which will permanently create a sea turtle rescue grant program under NOAA. The Act has generated support from 55 organizations in 25 states across the country and several members of Congress, including Senator Van Hollen.

Of the 48 turtles released so far this season, 24 rehabilitated at the National Aquarium, and the remainder received treatment at partner rescue organizations at Mystic Aquarium, Virginia Aquarium and the New York Marine Rescue Center. Because it is important that the turtles' natural foraging instincts remain intact, rescue organizations will frequently cooperate to allow turtles who have recovered appropriately to get back to the ocean—and out of human care—as soon as possible.

At this time, two turtles brought to the Aquarium as part of the 2022–2023 cold-stun season remain in the care of National Aquarium Animal rescue staff for continuing care. Animal Rescue and Animal Health staff are also caring for a group of Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering from injuries relating to recreational fishing hooks. These turtles were transferred to the National Aquarium from the Virginia Aquarium due to a need for additional rehab space after an abnormally busy start to the summer sea turtle stranding season in Virginia.

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