Yesterday we attended the release of a loggerhead sea turtle named Lil Girl. Lil Girl had been a resident of Gulf Specimen Marine Lab since she failed as a test subject on a turtle exclusion device. She was one of several hatchlings who were taken from Florida, transferred to Galveston Texas where she was raised by NOAA until she was the perfect age and size to stand in as a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in experiments on mandatory equipment used by shrimp fishermen that allow turtles to be excluded instead of drowned.
Turtle exclusion devices are, in my opinion, the very best of humanity in action. Instead of simply railing at the evil of humans who accidentally kill turtles as by-catch a constructive solution was researched, developed and then tested. The problem is solved in a rational and practical way that still allows humans to eat shrimp. This wonderful and incredibly valuable work is still on going at NOAA’s Fisheries Service Sea Turtle Facility which Dick got a tour of during our Galvaston trip.
Lil Girl was originally raised in this facility. After she flunked the TED test she got sent to Gulf Specimen Marine Lab to be used as a teaching animal until she reached adult size. As a young adult capable of breeding, and therefore extremely valuable to the wild loggerhead population, Lil Girl was deemed ready to go this December.
Lil Girl was a long time favourite at GSML. She arrived as a tiny turtle in 2008 at 13.6 inches long (32cm) and weighing 12.5 lbs (5.7kg) and at the time of her release she had gown to an astonishing 27.7 inches (70.4cm) and 81.6 lb (37kg). Every year when we arrived back at GSML we looked forward to seeing Lil Girl again and see how much she had grown. An estimated 180,000 people have come to GSML and have seen Lil Girl. She has been a wonderful Ambassador for her species. The picture above is Lil Girl in 2014 and then two years later in 2016 and you can see how her shell is not only bigger but grew longer as she grew. Dr. Robbin N. Trindell of the Florida Wildlife Services decided it was time for Lil Girl to have her chance to make it on her own out in the big wild ocean. Dr. Trindell was on hand for the release and to reassure the public this was the right thing to do.
Lil Girl arrived in the GSML truck and staff gathered to say goodbye. More than one was in tears because Lil Girl had become something of everyone’s favourite pet at GSML. The guest of honour seemed to be very nonchalant and relaxed about the entire thing.
There was a thunderstorm in the area at release time and the big moment was delayed while this small twister passed by and eventually formed a small water spout over the bay before the weather cleared and the sun came out. To everyone’s delight a group of three dolphins swam by, coming close to shore to check out the fuss as the water spout moved out of sight.
Members of the public took advantage of the delay to get one last close up look at Lil Girl.
Very special guest of honour was little Kai Rudloe with his Mom April. Will Kai Rudloe grow up to come the third generation of Rudloes to work in a third generation at Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory? Only time will tell but he did get a great start today.
So Lil Girl was removed from the vehicle and loaded up into the transfer sling for her walk down to the beach. More than one staff member was fighting tears.
It was hard to let her go. And she didn’t seem all that keen to be off herself. Unlike Allie who was straining to be free again at her release, Lil Girl looked all around and blinked her eyes obviously very puzzled about what was going on. She has always been in the care of humans and she trusts us completely and something was up she didn’t understand. In the end, she needed some shoving by Cypress Rudloe before she finally headed off into the great ocean she had never seen or swam in before.
When the waves began hitting her in the face, her bewilderment passed and she seemed to know what to do. She finally moved into the water and swam off. She paused briefly to lift up her head and take a breath and then she was gone.
As she swam off I found myself humming the old Cat Stevens song
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
And I’ll always remember you like a child, girl
I’ll always remember you like a child, girl
You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do
And it’s breaking my heart in two
‘Cause I never want to see you sad girl
Don’t be a bad girl
But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware
Part of me is afraid you got only a few miles from shore and some shark, a creature you never knew, swam up and ate you or you’ll go seeking people you knew who fed you and get hurt by a boat or hooked on a fishing dock. Being a reptile, and therefore mostly programmed by instinct and not so much by learning, you should be all right. There are records of turtles like you turning up, healthy and fine, years after release and having adapted well. I take the presence of dolphins as good sign. Good luck Lil Girl. I hope you get to make baby loggerheads and swim the sea for many years.