Rescued leatherback turtle released off Isle of Palms beach

VIDEO: Rescued leatherback turtle released off Isle of Palms beach

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Yawkey, the nearly 500-pound leatherback sea turtle that washed up on shore in Georgetown, is back in the ocean following a stay at the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

Crews at the South Carolina Aquarium, with the help of SCDNR, returned the 475-pound turtle to the ocean from a nearby beach on the Isle of Palms on Thursday.

To ensure the safest return of the turtle to the wild, the release was not open to the public.

Yawkey set a new record for the aquarium with its size; it is the largest turtle staffers have ever treated, and it required seven people to move the turtle, staffers say.

Yawkey was found washed up on shore Saturday at the Yawkey South Island Reserve in Georgetown and was transported to the aquarium. On the aquarium's Facebook page, staffers said Yawkey responded well to treatment, enabling the veterinarian to clear the turtle for release.

The program consulted with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources about possible release locations, and settled on a beach on the Isle of Palms.

Hospital crews say Yawkey was pretty cold when they first checked it out; though blood tests indicate nothing too out of the ordinary.

Officials say they were surprised Yawkey did not show signs of external trauma.

"This is only one of maybe five or six leatherbacks that have been stranded alive in North America," said Kelly Thorvalson, manager of the Sea Turtle Rescue Program."So for us to be able to possibly save it's life, and get it back out into the ocean, it's a really big deal and it's very exciting."

Yawkey is still in the juvenile age range, no more than ten years old, though experts are unable to pinpoint exactly how old and what gender the turtle is at this point.

The leatherback is one of the rarest sea turtles in the world, so to have Yawkey wash up not too far from the Lowcountry is quite a treat for the sea turtle experts and represents a huge opportunity in their ongoing research.

Copyright 2015 WCSC. All rights reserved.