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Endangered sea turtles released after 'East End experience,' Riverhead Foundation says

Dr. Doom the sea turtle is released. It

Dr. Doom the sea turtle is released. It was one of three turtles released in Hampton Bays as people watched with excitement, Thursday, July 30, 2015. Credit: John Roca

East End residents since last fall, Dr. Doom, Mr. Freeze and Superman had just the right conditions Thursday night to return home from an out-of-the-way beach in Hampton Bays.

The three Kemp's Ridley sea turtles -- considered the most endangered of the sea turtle family -- were hypothermia victims rescued in November and given their freedom in the bay at Ponquogue Bridge. Among the crowd of 60 or so, children waved goodbye, and even adults oohed when the creatures' heads popped out of the water.

Superman, the first released, could barely lift his head when he was found late November by twins walking the beach at the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge in Sag Harbor.

"When I picked it up today, it started thrashing about," said Kathleen Comber, 23, who rescued the sea creature with sister Carolyn, both of Sag Harbor. "It had so much strength. I felt it was empowered again."

Rescued when the ocean waters were chillier, the creatures were returned to their natural environment during a brief window of time when sea temperatures are more compatible, with the ocean waters off East Hampton Thursday registering 70 degrees, said officials from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation and the National Weather Service.

A 50-degree or below water temperature can bring on hypothermia, also known as "cold stunning," which results in turtles no longer eating or swimming, said Rachel Bosworth, foundation spokeswoman.

The Kemp's Ridley, the smallest of sea turtles, run into trouble when they dally in colder climes instead of migrating south with their buddies, Bosworth said.Had it not been for volunteers and hotline calls from the people who know what to do in turtle encounters, "these animals would not have survived," said Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., the foundation's executive director and senior biologist.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the juveniles of the species can range from Florida to Canada. Their numbers took a big hit in the 1940s, the DEC said, and the species has been protected since 1973 under the Endangered Species Act.

The turtles' accommodation these past months have been foundation tanks, cleaned daily, with regular visits from volunteer veterinarians, Bosworth said. Their menu has included fish and squid.Rescued creatures often get names based on an annual theme, DiGiovanni said, and this year's was villains and superheroes.

Dr. Doom was outfitted with a satellite tag that will allow the public to track its journey on the foundation's website. Superman got a sonic tag that will ping its location when it nears a national system of sonic detectors. Mr. Freeze's shell was too damaged by frostbite for any tracking device, but all got ID tags on a back flipper.

They may linger in the area for a while longer before starting their migration south, she said, bringing to a close their "East End experience."Bosworth said the turtles first slowly took in the surroundings, then shifted gear: "They started moving their flippers very fast, and they shot themselves into the water."

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