On Wednesday, August 10, the turtle and its escort from the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service will board an early morning flight to Fort Myers, Florida,
courtesy of Sun Country Airlines who donated the tickets.
We will provide this passenger with top-notch service, said Sun Country’s
Chief Operating Officer Shaun Nugent. We pride ourselves on giving all of
our passengers a great experience and although a rare loggerhead turtle
does not fit our usual customer profile, this will be no exception.
Upon arrival in Florida, the turtle will be transported to the Naples
Nature Center operated by the Conservancy of South West Florida, a
non-profit organization that specializes in conservation and rehabilitation
of Florida’s sea turtles and other wildlife. The turtle will remain at the
Center for about one year, when it is large enough to survive on its own in
The turtle has been at the Minnesota Zoo since September, 2004, when Zoo
aquarists received a call from the Service’s law enforcement office in St.
Paul which had confiscated a one-week old loggerhead turtle that was
smuggled to Minnesota from a beach in Sanibel Island, Florida. The turtle
needed to be cared for until the legal issues surrounding the case could be
resolved and Zoo staff agreed to help. Just the size of a 50-cent piece and
weighing only ˝ ounce, the young turtle arrived at the Zoo and was promptly
housed in a 70-gallon glass aquarium in a holding area where it was fed and
cared for. After outgrowing its space, the turtle was transferred to a
200-gallon fiberglass aquarium, then to a 150-gallon glass tank in
Discovery Bay so it could be exhibited to the public. The turtle now weighs
about 8 pounds.
Loggerhead turtles are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered
Species Act and protected by federal and state laws. It is unlawful to
touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests. Federal
law prohibits the illegal take, possession, and transport or trade of
loggerhead turtles without a permit. Violators face a maximum of one year
in prison and/or a $100,000 fine for each offense. In a previous case, an
Ohio schoolteacher was fined $2,800 for illegally taking eggs from a nest
on Florida’s East Coast in 2001. Some of those eggs later hatched, and the
hatchlings were repatriated into the Atlantic.
When people travel to Florida and other exotic locations they should enjoy
the wildlife they encounter but they should leave it alone and don’t bring
it home. It’s not healthy for the wildlife, and in most cases it’s illegal,
said MaryJane Lavin, special agent in charge of the Service’s Division of
Wildlife in the Twin Cities.
Loggerhead turtles get their name from their broad head. An adult
loggerhead will have between a 2 ˝ foot 3 ˝ foot long carapace (shell)
length and will weigh approximately 350 pounds. Adult loggerheads are
primarily carnivorous with their favorite food items being shellfish,
horseshoe crabs, clams, mussels, and other invertebrates. Major threats to
the loggerhead population include fishing, pollution, and development of
shorelines. Buildings and lighting both reduce the amount of appropriate
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