PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – Around 100 people gathered Tuesday morning to watch the release of a loggerhead sea turtle into the Gulf of Mexico.
The male turtle, aptly named “LEO,” was rescued by law enforcement officers back in October in Panama City Beach near Beach Access 24.
The turtle was found close to shore and not swimming well.
Gulf World Marine Institute took in the massive turtle for rehabilitation before setting him free.
“Basically once all the parameters checked out and he was off of the medication for a month, we were able to clear him for release, especially because he was eating and swimming normally,” Gulf World Marine Institute Stranding Coordinator Lauren Albrittain said. “Those are the other things we keep an eye out for. Once he’s acting like a turtle again we’re good to go.”
While the air was cooler on Tuesday, experts said the Gulf is warm enough for the turtle to thrive.
“Temperatures, when they are cold, are a consideration for sea turtles,” Albrittain said. “They are reptiles, so their body temperature is controlled by their environment. However, the Gulf of Mexico itself is too big of a body of water to drop to those dangerous levels here along our northern Florida coast.”
Biologists with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota said it can be years between male sea turtle sightings, and this will be the first male sea turtle they are tracking in northwest Florida.
“The subpopulation that this turtle comes from is probably from this northern gulf area and that’s a new area for the adult males that we’ve been tracking,” Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella said. “We haven’t ever tracked a turtle from this area so that’s pretty exciting.”
“LEO” will be tracked with a satellite tag so Mote biologists can discover new areas to conserve to protect the sea turtle population.
Follow Leo’s journey around the Gulf here.