One Sea Turtle's Story
A couple boating in the Chesapeake Bay last August helped save a very sick loggerhead sea turtle, who recuperated at the National Aquarium before being released back into the Bay this May.
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When the sea turtle didn't dive, Herb Floyd and Rhonda Franz-Floyd knew something was wrong. In August 2022, the couple was out on their boat, fishing in the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Choptank River, when Herb briefly saw what he thought was a sea turtle at the surface of the water. Rhonda had never seen a sea turtle in the Bay before and wanted to get a closer look, maybe take a photo. They backtracked, hoping the turtle might resurface nearby. Instead, it was still in the same place, just floating.
"Usually, sea turtles see the boat and they dive," Herb said. "I knew something was up when he stayed at the surface, even when we were close. We hung around a little bit, and he kept floating, kind of listing starboard, very lethargic."
Concerned, Herb and Rhonda called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. DNR put them in touch with National Aquarium Animal Rescue. Herb sent photos and video of the animal to National Aquarium Stranding Response and Triage Manager Kate Shaffer, who also asked him to count how frequently the turtle took a breath. Based on the information Herb relayed, it was clear to Kate that the turtle was in trouble and needed to be rescued.
Because the sea turtle was so large, the Aquarium team requested assistance from the Maryland Natural Resources Police, a division of DNR, to bring it to shore. Herb and Rhonda stayed by the turtle's side for two hours while the Natural Resources Police team made its way as quickly as it could. "We have an electric motor on the boat, so we could float next to him without disturbing him and keep an eye on him," Herb said. Rhonda kept talking to the turtle, telling him help was on the way.
The Natural Resources Police team brought the sea turtle to shore and met Kate, who made sure the turtle was stable before driving to Baltimore where National Aquarium Animal Rescue staff and the Aquarium's Animal Health veterinary team could do a full evaluation and begin medical care.
The rescued turtle was a very sick loggerhead that weighed just shy of 100 pounds and was about 15 to 20 years old.
Fully grown, adult loggerheads can reach 200 to 300 pounds, and they're thought to live as long as 70 or 80 years. Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle in the Chesapeake Bay—found in the lower Bay from spring through early fall—and the most abundant sea turtle in U.S. waters. Still, like all sea turtles, loggerheads are an endangered species.
Following National Aquarium Animal Rescue's 2022 naming theme, which was musical instruments, the team nicknamed the loggerhead Glockenspiel.
At first, Glockenspiel was too weak to swim. Our veterinary team uncovered a severe lung infection as well as gastrointestinal inflammation. He was malnourished and had clearly not been eating well. Glockenspiel required extensive medical care, including diagnostic imaging through CT scans and radiographs; intravenous nutrition, fluids and antibiotics; and nebulizer treatments. (A nebulizer is a device that turns liquid medication into a mist that can be inhaled through a mask.)
For a time, no one was sure if Glockenspiel was going to make it. But eventually, after months of treatment and care—and with frequent check-ins and occasional in-person visits from rescuers Herb and Rhonda—things took a turn for the better.
During rehabilitation, Glockenspiel began to eat again—although warily to start. "Glockenspiel proved to be a very picky eater," Rehabilitation Manager Caitlin Bovery said. "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."
Before release, Glockenspiel was foraging appropriately and readily eating crustaceans, particularly blue crab and shrimp. That, combined with a clean bill of health, meant Glockenspiel was ready to return to the place where this particular chapter of his story began.
On May 10, nine months after he was found bobbing at the surface of the Chesapeake Bay, Herb and Rhonda joined the National Aquarium's Animal Health and Rescue teams at Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland, to bid Glockenspiel a fond farewell. He pushed himself onto the sand, spun in a circle as if to look at everyone in his entourage, and then made his way into the water.
"With temperatures warming in the Chesapeake Bay, we expect that Glockenspiel will stay in the general area for now," Caitlin said, "foraging in the Chesapeake Bay for the summer, and potentially migrating to the southeast in the winter for warmer waters and eventually breeding grounds off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas."
Glockenspiel wasn't the only rescued sea turtle National Aquarium Animal Rescue returned to the ocean this spring. Of the 25 cold-stunned green sea turtles and Kemp's ridleys admitted to our care in November 2022, we've returned 23 to the ocean so far at releases in Florida and North Carolina.
Not many people have the opportunity that Herb and Rhonda did to directly help a sea turtle, but there are things all of us can do.
The Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay are popular destinations for migrating sea turtles. To help protect sea turtles—and all aquatic animals—be mindful while boating, dispose of trash responsibly when you're at the beach, and use less plastic in your daily life. Plastic bags, fishing lines, balloons and other kinds of debris pose a threat to sea turtles, which can confuse it for food or become entangled in it.
If you find a sick or injured sea turtle, keep a safe distance and report it to your local stranding response organization. In Maryland, you can call the National Aquarium's Animal Stranding Hotline at 410-576-3880 to report a live animal, or DNR at 800-628-9944 to report an animal that's deceased. You can also visit the NOAA Fisheries website to find marine wildlife responders in your area.
Another way to help is to ask your federal lawmakers to increase investment in sea turtle conservation. The Aquarium and more than 50 organizations around the country are working with U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and other champions in Congress to pass the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act. The legislation will create a much-needed, sustained federal grant program to provide a direct source of support for National Aquarium Animal Rescue and the dozens of other organizations across the country that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles.
Contact your representatives and senators to urge them to pass the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, which would provide federal funding for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles.