Hundreds of spectators crowded onto West Dennis beach Tuesday night to watch volunteers and scientists from the New England Aquarium release a 340 lb loggerhead sea turtle back into the ocean.
She's the the largest loggerhead ever rescued and rehabilitated in New England. Her name is Munchkin.
On November 22, volunteers for the Mass Audobon Sanctuary found her on a Wellfleet beach--anemic, hypothermic, and emaciated at 301 lbs.
She sustained injuries to her front and back flippers that are consistent with entanglement.
Tom Sullivan was one of the volunteers who originally found Munchkin. After watching her successful release back into the water, he described the moment as bittersweet.
"I mean, what could be better to see a turtle like this go back where it should be, you know?" he said. "I loved seeing [her] in the tank, but it wasn’t where [she] should be."
After finding her, a team rushed her to the New England Aquarium, where she spent seven months recovering and waiting for the ocean to be warm enough for a safe release.
Biologists and researchers will spend the next year tracking her location using a satellite tag. As a female of breeding age, and a member of an endangered species, they hope to see her reproduce.
Bob Prescott, Director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, helped transport Munchkin off Wellfleet Beach and into the New England Aquarium for seven months of rehab. He described her condition then as "touch and go," and says he's deeply grateful to the Aquarium’s team.
"We found her when she was near death and they brought her back to life. Now she’s ready to go and we’ll be able to see what she does when she goes back into the wild," he said." "You know, that’s a great story."
It took over half an hour and 15 volunteers to get Munchkin onto the sand, where she raced down the beach, pausing just before she dove back into the water.
You can follow Munchkin along on her journey through the New England Aquarium's tracking system.