Sea Turtle Struggling in Red Tide Was Spotted by Drone and Rescued
- A videographer in Florida saw an loggerhead turtle lingering near the ocean’s surface last month.
- After he quickly alerted officials, the turtle was rescued and is still recovering at a rehab facility.
- The rehab facility confirmed the turtle had been exposed to red tide, a toxic algae bloom.
A nature videographer in Florida was out shooting the coastline last month with his drone, as he often does, when he spotted something unusual in the water — a loggerhead sea turtle lingering near the surface.
“It was pretty easy to spot because it was floating at the surface and he didn’t dive down,” Michael McCarthy, the owner of the See Through Canoe Company, told Insider. “Normally when you see a turtle out in the ocean, they’re only at the surface for 20 seconds to a minute, just to get their breath and go back down.”
But this turtle, off a beach near St. Petersburg, was staying at the surface. Upon zooming in with his drone, it was obvious to McCarthy that the turtle needed help, and needed it fast.
He took about a minute of footage to document the turtle’s behavior, knowing it would be important, before racing home to upload the video and call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC.
“When you call FWC or other agencies, they don’t know if you have any experience with turtles or marine life, or if you’ve got any idea what you’re really looking at,” McCarthy explained. He knew the video would help him show that the turtle needed help.
FWC connected him with one of their biologists, who called him back within minutes. She began asking him a bunch of questions about the situation, but he knew time was of the essence. He cut her short and explained he could send her the video.
“That way you can see for yourself and assess for yourself exactly the situation, and know how quickly he needs help,” McCarthy told her. He added he had the exact GPS coordinates of where the turtle was, thanks to his drone.
Within an hour, a marine biologist from FWC was at the beach.
The biologist swam out into the water and gently guided the large sea turtle towards the shore. Once it was on the sand, another beachgoer used his umbrella to shade the turtle from the sun.
FWC notified Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was located nearby and has a dedicated rescue and rehab facility for marine life. A team from the aquarium arrived a short while later, and was able to get the turtle on a stretcher and into their van within minutes, according to McCarthy.
“Everyone was on the ball. We all had our A-game on. Nobody stalled,” he said. “And hopefully that will result in that turtle getting a full recovery.”
Video of the ordeal shared by McCarthy and the aquarium showed the turtle appearing to gasp for breath while it was on the beach and being carried off on the stretcher.
After being rescued on February 28, the turtle, who has been named Shenandoah, was still being treated at Clearwater Marine Aquarium as of Friday, a representative for the aquarium told Insider.
A patient page on the aquarium’s website shows photos of Shenandoah, who weighs 251 lbs and whose shell is about 3 feet in length. Sample testing confirmed what biologists suspected, that Shenandoah was exposed to high levels of red tide, which can impact the turtle’s nervous system and make them weak or cause other abnormal neurologic functions, making them at risk of drowning or being attacked by predators.
The representative for the aquarium said that once Shenandoah has recovered, he will be released back into the ocean, likely near where he was rescued.
Loggerhead turtles, which are endangered, are among the sea life in Red tides, so-named because they can make the water appear red, have occurred along US coastlines, but infamously appear on Florida’s Gulf Coast each summer.
McCarthy said in addition to Shenandoah, he has recently seen a dead turtle, a dead manatee, and dead fish washing ashore, and that seeing this red tide event so early in the year was a bit “ominous” for what could come this summer.
“I’m glad I just did what needed to be done. I was busy, I didn’t want to stop everything, but I had to live with myself,” he said. “And I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t just drop what I was doing and do what needed to done.”
He added that he was just grateful he was able to spot this turtle when he did, before it struggled even further, like other marine life he has seen, and ended up on shore already dead.