Free family event on fee-free day at Padre Island National Seashore to feature release of rescued sea turtles
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX – A three-flippered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that’s spent more almost two years recovering at the Texas State Aquarium will make a long-awaited return to his natural habitat in a public release at Padre Island National Seashore on Saturday, September 28.
“Champ,” as Aquarium staff have come to know this sea turtle, earned his name for surviving and thriving against all odds. He first arrived at the Wildlife Rescue Center in September 2017 after being discovered on the 0.5. mile marker of Padre Island National Seashore. This tiny turtle, estimated to be less than one year old, was missing a left front flipper, and was severely lethargic and dehydrated.
Staff transported Champ to the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Rescue Center, where he was put on fluid treatment and placed on a recovery and rehabilitation plan. On intake, Champ was small enough to fit in the palms of his rescuers’ hands, and weighted just 67 grams, or barely one-tenth of a pound. Eventually, Champ rebounded in health and energy, and was placed in a rehabilitation pool to test his swim ability. Despite his missing flipper, Champ proved plenty capable at swimming, and regained his appetite. As Champ eagerly consumed shrimp and capelin, he increased more than 20 times in size.
But despite Champ’s rapid advancement, Wildlife Rescue staff remained concerned that he would only swim at the water’s surface. Diving is a critical skill for sea turtles to survive, so to give Champ a chance to exercise these abilities, he was moved to the Aquarium’s Cheniere Mesoamerican Barrier Reef exhibit in June 2018, giving everyday Aquarium guests their first look at Champ. In this larger exhibit, Champ could also begin the next phase of his therapy by learning to dive at greater depths.
After a few months, Champ was frequently seen diving to the bottom of the nearly 20-foot-deep exhibit. The Texas State Aquarium, after conferring with partners at the Padre Island National Seashore, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other conservation organizations, decided in July 2019 to begin Champ’s preparations for release. He was moved back to the Wildlife Rescue Center so staff could further evaluate his health and determine if he could catch live prey. Champ also underwent several examinations by veterinary staff to ensure he was healthy enough to survive on his own. At his most recent weigh-in, Champ tipped the scales at 6.9 kilograms, more than 1,000 times his weight when he was first rescued in September 2017.
Having passed his final tests, Champ will soon make his triumphant return to the ocean. On September 28, 2019 at 10 a.m., Champ will be released at Malaquite Beach on Padre Island National Seashore, not far from where his rescue story began. The public is invited to see Champ’s release, and there is no fee to enter that park on that day.
“We are excited that Champ is ready to be returned home to the park after receiving expert medical treatment and nurturing at the Texas State Aquarium,” said Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore. “We cannot wait to see Champ set free, enter the surf and swim away into our beautiful Gulf of Mexico waters.”
A rescued sea turtle from the Texas Sealife Center will also be released at approximately 10 a.m. In addition, the Padre Island National Seashore’s mascot “Seashore Sandy” will be present to welcome guests, and a 10:30 book signing by a local author of “If I Were A Park Ranger” will be held in the park’s Education Center.
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