NEW ORLEANS – On March 15, 2021, 13 of the 28 cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles rehabilitated by Audubon’s Coastal Wildlife Network team were released along the Grand Isle shoreline as the first of the “krewe” to return to the wild.
The endangered turtles arrived at Audubon as part of a massive cold-stunning event along the New England coast in November 2020. CWN staff created highly individualized treatment plans for each turtle and have been monitoring them intensively. CWN identified the first krewe of turtles for release because of how well they recovered from their medical issues, Audubon’s veterinary team gave each of them a final exit examination to ensure they were ready for release. The CWN team also had to ensure that the Gulf of Mexico’s water reached a minimum of 60 degrees Fahrenheit before release.
“This is the day we have all been waiting for,” said Audubon Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding, Rescue, and Rehab Coordinator Gabriella Harlamert. “All the days and nights over the last four months caring for these turtles have all been for this. Getting to return them to the wild is why we do what we do, and it’s the best feeling ever.”
The turtles released were named: Tucks, Rex, Zulu, Thoth, Endymion, Chaos, Themis, Muff-a-lotta, Stomper, Athena, Carrollton, Pandora, and Proteus. In celebration of Carnival season, Audubon’s rescued sea turtles were named after iconic Mardi Gras krewes and marching groups.
The turtles not in the first release will remain at Audubon Aquatic Center and continue receiving treatment for pneumonia and injuries of varying degrees of severity.
CWN will release the remaining turtles in additional phases determined by their health. The remaining turtles to be released include Bacchus, Orpheus, Muses, Chewbacchus, Okeanos, Atlas, Argus, Nymph, Vieux, Pete Fountain, Siren, St. Aug, Iris, Babylon, and Fleurs.
Of the 30 cold-stunned turtles sent to Audubon for rehabilitation, two were lost due to infection and pneumonia. Sadly, this is common among cold-stunned turtles, but the CWN team is hopeful that the entire Krewe will be out parading in the wild soon enough.
Coordinated by Audubon Nature Institute, CWN serves as NOAA Fisheries’ primary marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partner in Louisiana.
CWN is committed to the humane care and treatment of injured, ill, or displaced marine animals in Louisiana and is the only entity in the state responsible for the rehabilitation of live marine mammals and sea turtles. The information CWN collects from stranded animals provides a snapshot into the health of the marine environment and provides a better understanding of threats to marine mammals and sea turtles in the wild.
The public is advised to report all stranded marine mammals and sea turtles (live or dead) to CWN at (504) 235-3005.
When reporting strandings, the public should be prepared to give:
- Exact location and/or GPS coordinates,
- Photographs of the animal, and
- Nature of the report (type of animal/live or dead/size, etc.).
Recommendations when reporting a live stranded animal include:
- Put human safety above animal safety. If conditions are dangerous, do not attempt to approach the animal.
- Keep crowds away and noise levels down to avoid causing stress to the animal.
- Don’t push an animal on shore back into the water.
- If the animal returns to the water on its own, don’t attempt to interact with it.
- Leave all entanglements that may be present on the animal.
Though the COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating financial impact on Audubon Nature Institute, it remains committed to going above and beyond to help animals in need. The public can have a positive impact on turtles and many more marine animals like them by supporting Audubon’s continued work with a donation to https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/seaturtles.