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Turtle Tagged 21 Years Ago By Florida Lab Returns For Rehab; 'Vicki Lee' Receives Fluids

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SARASOTA, Florida -- A stranded adult female loggerhead sea turtle tagged 21 years ago by Mote Marine Laboratory was rescued Thursday and transported to Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

The turtle, weighing an estimated 225 pounds with a 3-foot-long carapace, stranded near the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club and was weak and emaciated. It was rescued by Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stranding program staff, who originally planned to take it another facility for rehab. After they examined the turtle and determined it had been tagged by Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program, they brought it to Mote.

The turtle was initially identified by the passive integrated transponder, or PIT, tag that it was tagged with in 2003. A PIT tag is a microchip inserted under the skin of an animal that can be read with an electronic wand — it's the same technology used in domestic dogs and cats. In the case of nesting turtles, PIT tags provide information about where and when the animal was tagged.

When the turtle later arrived at Mote, staff examining the animal also found the first metal tag placed on its right front flipper in 1988. "To have this tag stay on is amazing," said Vicki Wiese, who tagged the animal in 1988 while the turtle nested on Casey Key. "By the time they came back to nest again, at least one of those tags was usually gone."

Wiese, now Director of Events for Mote, helped start the Lab's first sea turtle conservation program in 1982 and began regularly tagging nesting sea turtles in 1985. The stranded loggerhead female brought to Mote was named "Vicki Lee" in Wiese's honor.

All told, "Vicki Lee" has been tagged four times by Mote staff as she nested again and again on Casey Key in Sarasota County. She was tagged in 1996, 1999 and 2003.

The fact that the turtle was tagged in 1988 and has been seen nesting on Casey as recently as 2003 indicates the longevity of sea turtles and the need for long-term studies, said Dr. Tony Tucker, manager of Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. "Sea turtles are long-lived species," Tucker said. "In order to really understand their lives, we need to have long-term studies. New technologies such as satellite tags are helping us fill in the blanks on turtles' life histories. This information is crucial for a species that is in danger of extinction."

An initial medical evaluation indicates "Vicki Lee" may be suffering from lethargic loggerhead syndrome, which causes animals to become weak and sometimes unable to move. The cause for the syndrome has not been identified. Right now, "Vicki Lee" is receiving fluids and other appropriate medical care.

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