Peter Gerace and his 5-year-old son Cullen watched with happiness and a sense of satisfaction Monday afternoon as Huntington, a loggerhead sea turtle they rescued almost a year ago, returned to the sea at Isle of Palms County Park.
A crowd of 500 or so – bolstered by the South Carolina Aquarium’s social media outlets – lined Huntington’s sandy path to the sea. Her shell as clean as her bill of health, Huntington took several steps on the sand before heading out into the waves.
“She looked 100 percent better,” said Gerace, who owns Inlet Culinary Garden in Murrells Inlet. “We do a lot of fishing, and it’s nice to put something back, to do something good.”
Last spring, the Geraces and friend Jay Sconyers had pulled the floating turtle – unable to dive below the water surface, covered with barnacles and struggling to breathe – into Gerace’s john boat at Huntington Beach State Park.
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After a few days in a Pawleys Island turtle hospital, Huntington began a long rehab process from an impacted intestine and malnutrition at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston.
Weighing 140 pounds when rescued, Huntington returned to her habitat at 160 pounds, said Sea Turtle Rescue Program Manager Kelly Thorvalson. The turtle is more than 80 centimeters in length.
Cullen Gerace, who will enter kindergarten in the fall, had been to the S.C. Aquarium twice to visit Huntington, who like other rescued turtles was named for the location where she was found.
“It was very exciting,” said Peter Gerace, who also rescued a turtle six or seven years ago. “I’m thankful they invited Cullen and me to come.”
Huntington was tube-fed mineral oils early in her recovery.
After correcting Huntington’s intestinal problems, aquarium staff put the turtle on a nutritional diet to build her weight back up. Huntington was kept hydrated and given enemas and other digestive tract treatments.
“It’s a lot of work to make impactions pass,” Thorvalson said, who estimated Huntington’s age at 25 to 35, close to breeding age. “They take a long time to heal.”
Gradually, Huntington was re-introduced to eating hard-shelled prey, including lobsters and crabs.
Thorvalson said the turtle shouldn’t have any problems returning to the sea.
“She’s in great shape,” Thorvalson said. “We’re nothing but a blink in her life.”