Leatherback Sea Turtle Rescued From Lonely Beach, Christened Yawkey

A 500-pound leatherback sea turtle has been rescued in South Carolina, which may not seem like a big deal. But only five of these massive reptiles have ever been found alive in the entire U.S., making Saturday’s rescue a true rarity.

The juvenile turtle was found on a remote beach at the Yawkey-South Island Reserve in South Carolina by a biologist, vet, and volunteers, the Charleston Post Courier reported. At first sight, the sea turtle appeared to be sick, so the group hiked through mud and marsh to get to it. One of these intrepid folks said it wasn’t an easy task.

“I couldn’t think of a harder beach to get a 500-pound turtle off of.”

The rescued leatherback, now named Yawkey, was then taken to the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital and is its first ever leatherback patient. Yawkey, who is about 10 years old and of unknown gender, is recovering, though he was cold when rescued and had low blood sugar, WCSC reported. But don’t worry – Kelly Thorvalson, sea turtle rescue program manager, is hopeful.

“Sea turtles are tough. They are really tough animals. This turtle is in good enough condition that we can give it a good head start and release it. I do feel good about its prognosis.”

But there’s still the question of how the leatherback even ended up on the beach. Most of the time they stick to the open ocean and migrate far away from the South Carolina coast. That this leatherback made it all the way to the beach alive, and could even be rescued, is rare; five dead leatherbacks wash ashore the coasts there every year.

It’s possible that Yawkey ate plastic floating in the ocean, since it can resemble its favorite snack – a jellyfish. This unfortunate meal may have made Yawkey gassy enough to float to shore, the Associated Press added. And Thorvalson is a little glad that this leatherback had a spot of bad luck and had to be rescued.

“As much as I hate that the turtle is sick, I have to say that I was pretty excited to get the chance to work with one. They are so very different than the hard shelled turtles — I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The leatherback (named for its leathery, not bony, shell) sea turtle will recover at the hospital for a time, but will be released back into the wild; leatherbacks don’t do well in captivity. The largest of all sea turtles – they grow to 800 and at most 2,000 pounds – the leatherback travels in the open ocean and forages on coasts, migrating along the Gulf Stream. They travel the most and the farthest of any sea turtle.

And Yawkey, at least, traveled a bit too far.

[Photo Courtesy South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital]