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Rare Rehabbed Hawksbill Turtle Released Off Florida Keys

(MARATHON, FLA) — turtle release
A 50-year-old, 170 pound turtle is back home in sea thanks to the care it got at a Monroe County facility. A female hawksbill sea turtle named Harris was released in the water off Key Largo yesterday after it was rehabbed at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon. Veterinarians there rescued the turtle 11 days ago after it was found with a fishing lure in its shoulder.

The female turtle dubbed “Harris” had a large fishing lure deeply embedded in her shoulder. She received medical treatment and wound care at the hospital and, during examination, was found to be carrying eggs.

“We were able to fit her with a satellite tag, and what that means is that we can track her,” said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. “She is with eggs, so the exciting thing is we may be able to see where she goes and nests.”

Hawksbill sea turtles are known for having a residence. “Harris” has been seen by divers swimming around the wreck of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Duane for the past several years.

Their nesting behavior, however, remains a mystery in the Florida Keys. To date only a few hawksbill nests have been found in the Middle Keys around Marathon, but none in Key Largo. Researchers and Turtle Hospital staff hope the satellite tag will help them discover where “Harris” might lay her eggs.

Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered and Zirkelbach reported that “Harris” is unusually large for the species.

“She is 171 pounds,” Zirkelbach said. “In the books they say hawksbills grow to 150 pounds, so she was huge — most likely well over 50 years old.”

The divers who rescued Harris, including the owner of Key Largo-based Horizon Divers, worked alongside the Turtle Hospital team on the release at intentionally sunk Duane wreck, located about six miles off Key Largo near Molasses Reef.

Harris was tagged so researchers can follow her progress.
turtle tracking
You can see her release and can track her location here.