Here on Topsail that sound we’re now hearing late at night is the pitter-patter of tiny flippers scurrying down to the surf. With the official nesting season ending on Aug. 30 our Turtle Project volunteers are spending much more of their beach time in the dark as hundreds of babies start that perilous journey, hoping to be the one out of the thousands of their siblings that actually makes it.

Back at the hospital our staff starts their day in the wee hours of the morning and works into early evening. There are flippers there too, but they’re much bigger, make a lot more noise, can bruise and scratch and get you very, very wet. And it’s amazing exactly what kind of emotion any particular movement of a flipper can convey, especially when that critter is having a bad day. We refer to it as “getting the flipper.” In spite of all of that we love that flipper madness because it’s a sure sign that our patients are really ready to go.

On Tuesday, Aug. 13 we released six fully rehabilitated turtles back to Mother Ocean, joined by a crowd of lucky visitors who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. “Tides,” a good-sized loggerhead and one of our turtles on the tour line at the hospital was the first to go. He was initially scheduled to be the grand finale, wheeled down the beach on our turtle taxi like the king he thought he was. But after waiting in the van for a bit he let us know in no uncertain term (those flippers!) that he was not going to sit around while the little guys got to go first. So Tides was bumped to the head of the line, loaded up, strapped in and wheeled down to the surf to the cheers of his fans. As is customary with all the larger turtles he had to get his flippers in gear and walk those last few yards into the water — and he was off.

The other turtles, one Kemp’s and four little greens were just as excited to be going home and flapped and smiled for photo ops as they were carried down to the surf. Sending a turtle home is always an honor for our staff and this year Jean surprised us with her “couples day” assignments. We have a handful of what she refers to as “twofers” (wife and husband) who work at the hospital. Every little guy was seen off by a happy but conflicted set of "parents” who watched their kid wave goodbye and begin life on their own.

We still have quite a few turtles at the hospital in the final stages of rehab who will be out before the waters begin to cool. Our turtle vet, Dr. Harms will be coming with his sea turtle rotation class in a few weeks to give every patient a thorough physical in preparation for their (hopeful) release. Where and when? Being present for a release is just a matter of luck, and weather.

We’re still on our summer tour schedule, open daily (Except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. for a few more weeks. In mid-September we go to our fall/winter schedule of two days a week. Attendance averages 800 - 1,000 visitors a day so lines can be long. Bring umbrellas for shade and lots of water to stay hydrated. The tour takes about 45 minutes once inside the doors so plan your schedule accordingly. Our turtles get pretty tired after a long day of receiving visitors and are less active as the afternoon goes on. Hope to see you all soon – we love “talking turtle.”

 

Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.