A 166-pound loggerhead sea turtle is recovering at the Gulfarium after being untangled from a heap of debris in Florida.
OKALOOSA ISLAND — Recently freed from 6.5 pounds of debris during a daring rescue, Tyler the sea turtle continued its recovery at the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. (Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, Educate) Center on Tuesday.
The turtle’s escape from deep trouble began about 1:45 p.m. Saturday about 500 feet east of the Okaloosa Island Pier, said Fort Walton Beach resident David Mengual, who helped in the rescue.
The turtle is a 166-pound, sub-adult loggerhead that likely is a female, said Terra Throgmorton, a senior aquarist at the C.A.R.E. Center. The loggerhead is a federally-designated threatened species.
Mengual said his friend, airman Tyler Norris, was cruising on a paddleboard about 250 yards from shore when he spotted the turtle not moving below the surface.
Norris ventured a bit away, returned to the spot and saw that the reptile still wasn’t moving.
“He dove about 25 feet and brought this huge turtle up,” Mengual said. “He had to fight to keep the turtle from going back down.”
He said the turtle’s right front flipper was ensnared in a clump of fishing gear that included monofilament line and part of a fishing pole, as well as a pair of swimming goggles and a pair of sunglasses.
The debris also included a handle, which Norris held onto while maneuvering the turtle to shore. Norris's work to bring the reptile in from the deep lasted about 40 minutes, said Mengual, who helped take the loggerhead out of the water.
“We didn’t want it to be shark food," he said.
A small group of beachgoers, including the beach’s well-known “Bird Man" who provided a pair of shears, then helped remove the entangled debris from the loggerhead.
Another friend helped bring in Norris’ paddleboard. The Gulfarium's staff arrived a short time later with a large tub in which to place the turtle.
Throgmorton said Tyler the loggerhead (named after her rescuer) has a fishing hook in her front left flipper, another hook in her mouth and possibly two more in her esophagus.
“It’s good they brought her in,” she said of Norris and the other beachgoers. “If they undid the entanglement and set her free, she wouldn’t have gotten help to remove the hooks.”
Tyler remains under observation. A date of surgery to remove the internal hooks hasn’t been scheduled yet, Throgmorton said.
The turtle has been eating squid, anchovies, shrimp and capelin. Her rehab could last from one or two months to a year and a half.
“Based on her therapist, she had a heavy load of algae on her carapace, which shows an illness or not being able to dive deep for a prolonged period of time,” Throgmorton said. “That could impact the timing of her release” back into the Gulf.
She said Norris’ rescue was both awesome and surprising.
“Loggerheads are not the most cooperative sea turtles,” Throgmorton said. “Their first response is to swim away and use their mouth to bite. I’m glad (Norris) wasn’t hurt in the process. I really appreciate that he was brave enough to rescue her.”
This story originally published to nwfdailynews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.