A videographer in Florida saw a loggerhead sea turtle near the surface of the sea last month.
After quickly alerting officials, the turtle was rescued and is still recovering at a rehabilitation facility.
The rehabilitation facility confirmed the turtle was exposed to the Red Tide, a toxic algal bloom.
A wildlife videographer in Florida was using his drone to photograph the coast last month, as he often does, when he spotted something unusual in the water — a loggerhead turtle hovering near the surface.
“It was pretty easy to spot because it was floating on the surface and he wasn’t going under,” Michael McCarthy, owner of See Through Canoe Company, told Insider. “Usually when you see a turtle out in the ocean, they’re only on the surface for 20 seconds to a minute just to catch their breath and go back down.”
But this turtle off a beach near St. Petersburg stayed on the surface. Zooming in with his drone, McCarthy knew the turtle needed help, and fast.
He captured about a minute of footage documenting the turtle’s behavior, knowing it would be important, before racing home to upload the video and call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“When you call FWC or other agencies, they don’t know if you have any experience with turtles or marine life, or if you have any idea what you’re really looking at,” McCarthy explained. He knew the video would help him show that the turtle needed help.
FWC put him through to one of their biologists, who called him back within minutes. She started asking him a few questions about the situation, but he knew time was of the essence. He interrupted her and told her he could send her the video.
“That way you can see the situation for yourself and have an accurate assessment of yourself and how quickly he needs help,” McCarthy told her. He added that he had the exact GPS coordinates of where the turtle was thanks to his drone.
Within an hour, a marine biologist from FWC was on the beach.
The biologist swam out into the water and gently guided the large sea turtle to shore. Once it was on the sand, another beachgoer used his umbrella to protect the turtle from the sun.
FWC notified the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was nearby and has a dedicated marine life rescue and rehabilitation facility. A team from the aquarium arrived a short time later and was able to get the turtle on a stretcher and into their van within minutes, according to McCarthy.
“Everyone was on the ball. We all had our best game. Nobody hesitated,” he said. “And hopefully that will result in this turtle making a full recovery.”
Video of the ordeal shared by McCarthy and the Aquarium showed the turtle appearing to be gasping for air while lying on the beach being carried away on the stretcher.
After being rescued on Feb. 28, the turtle, named Shenandoah, was still being treated at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium as of Friday, an aquarium official told Insider.
A patient page on the aquarium’s website features photos of Shenandoah, who weighs 251 pounds and whose shell is about 3 feet long. Specimen testing confirmed what biologists suspected, namely that Shenandoah was exposed to high levels of Red Tide, which can affect the turtle’s nervous system and weaken them or cause other abnormal neurological functions, putting them at risk of drowning or being attacked by predators .
The aquarium representative said once Shenandoah recovers, he will be released back into the ocean, likely near where he was rescued.
Loggerhead sea turtles, which are critically endangered, are among Florida marine life affected by the red tide, a harmful algal bloom that produces toxins that kill marine life, make shellfish unsafe for consumption and pollute the surrounding air. Red tides, so named because they can make the water appear red, have occurred along U.S. coasts but occur every summer on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
McCarthy, in addition to Shenandoah, said he recently saw a dead turtle, manatee and dead fish wash ashore and that it was a bit “ominous” to see this red tide event so early in the year, for what could come this summer.
“I’m glad I just did what had to be done. I was busy, I didn’t want to stop everything, but I had to live with myself,” he said. “And I knew that if I didn’t just give up what I’m doing and do what needs to be done, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
He added that he was just grateful that he was able to spot this turtle before it struggled even further like other marine life he’d seen and ended up dead on land.
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