N.B. couple on vacation in Florida Keys help rescue sea turtle

N.B. couple on vacation in Florida Keys help rescue sea turtle

Canadian snowbirds head south for what they can’t get here. The beach, sun, time away from the cold — and sea turtle rescues?

For one New Brunswick couple, that’s exactly what happened.

Ida Short and her husband Phil, from Harvey Station southwest of Fredericton, were fishing from a boat off the Florida Keys on Thursday when they noticed some tangled rope and seaweed and went to investigate.

“And as we got looking at it, we thought, ‘Oh no, it’s a dead turtle.’ And then all of a sudden she lifted up her head. So we knew she was alive,” said Short.

WATCH | ‘I was scared to death she was going to drown before we got her’:

Catch of the day? N.B. couple rescues massive sea turtle in Florida

Harvey Station’s Ida and Phil Short discovered the 200-pound loggerhead entangled in fishing gear off the Florida Keys

She said they tried to untangle the turtle themselves, but it was so large and it kept trying to swim away.

Because they had vacationed in the Keys for 13 years, Short knew just who to call: the Turtle Hospital.

Located in Marathon, Fla., the turtle rescue and rehab hospital has been open since 1986.

“I can’t overstate just the help Ida and Phil were,” said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the hospital. She said that many people will call in about a turtle and just leave, but the Shorts stuck around to make sure help arrived.

Better Zirkelbach
Bette Zirkelbach is the manager of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. She said if the Shorts hadn’t helped with the turtle, it likely would have died. (Sam Farley/CBC)

“If they didn’t stay with the turtle, we probably would have never found her again,” Zirkelbach said.

It was a tense wait, Short said. Since sea turtles breathe air, it was at risk of suffocation or drowning.

“She kept bringing her head up so she was breathing. I was scared to death that she was going to drown before we got her.”

Staff from the turtle hospital were aided by the U.S. Coast Guard to reach the female loggerhead in time.  

A group of men in coast guard uniforms carry the turtle in a plastic box
The U.S. Coast Guard helped Turtle Hospital staff rescue the 200-pound loggerhead. (Submitted by Bette Zirkelbach)

“She had minimal injuries from the trap line, so they must have found her pretty quickly from her entanglement,” said Zirkelbach, who estimated the turtle to be about 25 years old, weighing about 200 pounds.

She said the turtle was given fluids, antibiotics, vitamins and had blood work done. Since it almost drowned, the turtle’s lungs were also evaluated.

It was in good enough health to be released by Saturday morning.

In front of a crowd of hundreds at Marathon’s Sombrero Beach, the Shorts were invited to help carry the turtle back to the water.

A turtle sits in the hospital
The sea turtle was brought to the Turtle Hospital, where it was taken care of for a few days before being released. (Submitted by Bette Zirkelbach)

“It was just, I’m sure a full circle moment for them,” Zirkelbach said.

“And it never gets time for me either, it’s very emotional. Just seeing a big beautiful animal like that go back to sea.”

Turtle named in honour of rescuer

But before the turtle could be released, the Turtle Hospital had a special surprise for the Shorts.

In honour of their help, the turtle was named Ida.

“The grandkids have been so excited, and we sent them the videos and they couldn’t believe that they named the turtle after their nana,” Short said with a laugh.

Two grandparents posse with four grandkids
Short said her grandchildren were pretty excited when the turtle was named after their nana. (Submitted by Ida Short)

“It’s nice. I know I have a turtle out there named after me.”

Short said the experience underscores the need to protect wildlife. In their time in Florida they’ve seen pelicans’ beaks tangled in rope and manatees with scars from boat propellers.

“Being able to see the sea creatures that are out there and all the plastic and all the ropes … they’re so vulnerable to all that stuff and they get tangled up so easily in it,” she said.

Zirkelbach said the Turtle Hospital rescues an average of 100 turtles a year, numbers that can increase when cold weather can cause turtles to freeze. And entanglements are a problem.

“So unfortunately, entanglement in fishing gear is too common for my taste,” Zirkelbach said.

Loggerhead turtles are carnivores, she said, and Ida the turtle was likely just looking for a snack from the lobster trap before it got entangled in the line.

If the Shorts hadn’t found the turtle in time, Zirkelbach has no doubt about the likely outcome.

“Sadly, it probably would have drowned. And we have seen drowned turtles just within the past six months entangled in trap lines.”

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