the recovered sea turtle deeper in the water so it could swim away. Bovery said juvenile turtles are not used
to moving on sand. A boat propeller made the gash in Five-oh’s shell.
Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Steve Plunkett
A scrappy young sea turtle that survived what should have been a fatal encounter with a boat propeller in the Intracoastal Waterway last Easter has hightailed it from Boca Raton for the calmer St. Lucie River more than 60 miles north.
Five-oh, named after the TV police drama Hawaii Five-0 in honor of the Boca Raton officers who stopped its initial bleeding, reached the waters around Stuart two days after its March 9 release. A GPS device epoxied to the turtle’s back shows it hasn’t strayed far since.
Mitchell Kay was hosting a barbecue at his home off the Intracoastal just south of the Spanish River Boulevard bridge on March 27, 2016, when he heard unusual splashing and discovered the turtle struggling in the canal, a fresh gash halfway across its back. Its left rear flipper was nearly severed.
“It looked like it was going to drown,” Kay said.
He whipped out his smartphone and Googled “wildlife rescue” for help, but most agencies were closed for the holiday. He finally got in touch with the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, which alerted the police.
Meanwhile, one of the barbecue guests, Tory Fritz, grabbed his scuba mask, snorkel and fins from the back seat of his car and jumped into the water.
“He actually lifted the turtle onto a JetSki platform,” Kay said. Video that Rocio Centurion, Kay’s girlfriend, took of the rescue shows Five-oh trying to help with its front flippers as Fritz pushes from behind.
A police squad car and the marine patrol unit were next to arrive. Officers carefully lifted the animal onto land and applied pressure to stop the blood. Kay said the turtle had been struck by a boat probably minutes before. “It was a brand-new wound,” he said.
Gumbo Limbo’s sea turtle rehabilitation team credited Kay’s and Fritz’s quick response with saving Five-oh’s life. Many rescues fail because turtles in distress swim away after being spotted and cannot be found, said Caitlin Bovery, the team’s assistant coordinator.
“The fact that they jumped in and put the turtle on a JetSki launch was critical,” Bovery said.
She got in the back seat of a police cruiser for the trip back to Gumbo Limbo.
“It was my first time in a cop car, I had a sea turtle next to me, and no one got a picture,” Bovery said.
Five-oh had the first of two CT scans and spent the next nine days in “dry dock” before undergoing surgery to reconstruct muscle tissue and repair its flipper. Staff veterinarian Maria Chadam used negative vacuum pressure to help heal the gash and covered the wound with bandages and zip ties.
Bovery said Five-oh, a juvenile loggerhead less than 10 years old, probably was looking for food in the Intracoastal. Green turtles often show up in the waterway, she said.
“It’s not terribly common to see loggerheads in the Intracoastal like that,” she said.
Kay called the waterway near his house a high-speed zone and said “unfortunately there’s a lot of inexperienced operators” who don’t watch out for marine life.
Barrier island residents Phil and Judy Messing donated Five-oh’s satellite tag, which will transmit GPS signals for about a year. Go to www.gumbolimbo.org/satellite-tracking for a link to the turtle’s movements.
The loggerhead has a lifespan of up to 100 years. Five-oh’s sex will become apparent when it reaches adulthood in 10 or 15 years, Bovery said.
Five-oh was Gumbo Limbo’s third loggerhead release of 2017, following Holiday on Feb. 16 and Velociraptor on Feb. 28. Holiday was found near the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant just after Thanksgiving with 7 feet of fishing line coming out of her rear; an X-ray showed a large fishhook in her throat. Velociraptor was a pier-hooked juvenile that healed fast after a “quick and easy” hook removal surgery, rehabilitation coordinator Whitney Crowder said.
Several greens have also been released this year.
Crowder called Five-oh a “very special” turtle. “This little fellow surpasses all other previous patients here in our rehab facility by staying here for almost one year,” she said. “He really was a miracle.”
Gumbo Limbo took in more than 100 sea turtle patients in 2016 and released 38 rehabilitated patients within the year, Crowder said.