Endangered Sea Turtle Released After Getting Epically Lost

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Kemp's ridley sea turtles are the rarest, most endangered sea turtle on the planet. One reason for their dwindling numbers is from the precarious state of the turtle's habitat, in the oft-imperiled waters of the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast of the North America -- so it's perhaps not surprising that one young turtle would try to make a break for it. Three years ago, biologists in the Netherlands were shocked to discover a warm water-loving Kemp's ridley turtle nearly frozen to death off their shores, thousands of miles from its home. But now, after years of TLC from some hard-working conservationists, that world-travelling turtle -- dubbed "Johnny Vasco da Gama" -- is ready to make a go of it again.

There's no telling just how or why a normally adeptly navigating sea turtle could find its way so far from home, but one thing is for certain -- afterwards there was no shortage of dedicated people to help Johnny get back on his flippers. The Tampa Bay Times reports:

The turtle was rescued in November 2008 in the Netherlands, stabilized by the Rotterdam Zoo, sent to the aquarium Oceanário de Lisboa in Portugal the following summer, and transferred to Zoomarine for rehab.

Zoomarine staffers identified the turtle as a juvenile Kemp's ridley — a highly endangered species that spends this part of its life feeding in relatively shallow, warm waters of the western North Atlantic, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, which is thousands of miles from where it was rescued.

Working in coordination with a team from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, Johnny's European caregivers arranged for his return to the Gulf Coast. In late November, an airplane returned the young turtle to proper side of the Atlantic. Finally this morning, after a years-long sojourn, Johnny was released at Lido Key, Florida -- and this time he's wearing a GPS tracker so biologists can keep up with his wanderings.

"The most exciting part of Johnny's journey is yet to come," says Sheryan Epperly of the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. "Tracking will help to define the turtle's movement patterns, which will then give us a better understanding of habitat use."

Join the Mote Marine Laboratory in following Johnny Vasco da Gama's progress here.

Tags: Endangered Species | Oceans