Months after battling back from emaciation, hypothermia and badly wounded flippers probably gashed by plastic waste, Munchkin, a giant female loggerhead sea turtle, is touring summer resorts from Nantucket to the Hamptons to the Jersey Shore, officials said.
Though missing parts of her right front and left hind flippers, Munchkin was deemed healthy enough to be released on July 2, the New England Aquarium, which rescued her, said in a statement. The satellite tracking device fixed to her shell reveals some of her adventures.
"Munchkin spent the July 4th weekend hanging out around Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, dining on crab and sea jellies," said Kara Dodge, referring to jellyfish.
Dodge, a sea turtle ecologist with the New England Aquarium in Boston, said: "She’s been making some long, hour-plus deep dives into colder water, which I’m interpreting as bottom time, which likely includes hunting/feeding.”
Though Munchkin, her rescuers say, enjoyed herring and looking out of her tank as she recovered, loggerheads have such exceptionally strong jaws that they can crunch shellfish.
Munchkin was near death when found on Nov. 21 on a Cape Cod beach. Loggerheads can strand themselves on New England beaches when they are ill or injured, experts say, and can succumb to hypothermia — called cold-stunning — if they do not reach warm waters before winter sets in.
Protected in the United States as a threatened species, which means they are likely to become endangered, loggerheads can swim from Newfoundland to Argentina, experts say. Their survival is imperiled by a host of problems: longline fishing, shrimp trawling, pollution, coastal lighting and development, and nest predation, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Gainesville, Florida.
Munchkin was found in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, known for its towering dunes. She weighed 301 pounds at the time.
"Munchkin was barely conscious, and her size posed a huge challenge in moving her off the beach," the aquarium said.
Munchkin now weighs in at around 330 pounds; the average loggerhead is only about 250 pounds, experts say.
Munchkin’s rescuers drove her 90 miles south to a Quincy, Massachusetts, treatment facility, where — as they gradually warmed her back up at the rate of about five degrees a day — veterinarians discovered she also was suffering from anemia.
After visiting Nantucket over the Independence Day holiday, Munchkin, whose name means “little figure” in German, swam around 40 miles to Block Island and rested there for a day. She then swam west toward Montauk, her rescuers said. About five miles out, however, "she changed her bearing to a more southwesterly track, paralleling the south shore of Long Island," and made her way to the Hamptons.
Fire Island was her next stop, but on Monday "she made a hurried exit and swam due south for 10 miles into the New York/New Jersey Bight and then swam more southwesterly toward the Jersey Shore," her rescuers said.
Dodge hopes Munchkin’s new course will keep her safe.
“I am pleased, mostly because she’s moved out of near-shore coastal waters where we have a lot of human impacts and activities that can be problematic for sea turtles such as recreational boating and fishing, especially in the summer months,” Dodge said.