Rescued sea turtle could shed light on Gulf oil's impact

Lefty the sea turtle
Lefty the sea turtle

SAUCIER, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell – email

SAUCIER, MS (WLOX) – Dr. James Askew of the Saucier Veterinary Hospital has a mission: Make sure that every hurt animal finds its way back to your lap or to the wild.

The animal hospital sees its share of cats and dogs, but it also gets its share of strange critters. The hospital has treated scorpions, frogs, deer, turtles, and even a puffer fish.

"Eighty percent of what we see usually can be prevented or is something that we caused.  In doing so it's just one of those things you try to put back as much as possible," said Askew.

This time of year, Askew says they see a lot of deer that have been hit by cars or injured by hunters.  Some they are able to rehabilitate, others they have to euthanize.

Askew and his staff are getting ready to say 'goodbye' to one of their favorite patients, Lefty the sea turtle.  Lefty was brought into the hospital over a year ago after she was hit by a boat.  According to Askew, her shell was damaged and her left flipper was nearly severed.

"We could have amputated her leg and sent her to a zoo at any time but I swore I was not going to let her go to a zoo. It was the biggest of this species I've ever seen and probably one of the most difficult cases I've ever had," said Askew.

Now, Lefty is healed and healthy and ready to be released according to the standards set by the fish and wildlife service.

"One of the neat things about her, truly unique things, is that unlike all the other rescue turtles we've released, she is the only one that was out of the gulf waters at the time of the oil spill," said Askew.

That means that the nearly 70 pound turtle hasn't been exposed to the spill in any way, and her new life in the wild could provide invaluable information about the state of gulf waters.

Both Askew and the Fish and Wildlife Service have taken tissue samples of Lefty to document her current health.  A transmitter with GPS capabilities will be attached to her back before she is released near Ship Island.  The transmitter will be able to tell Askew and his team how Lefty is doing and if she needs help.

"If we find out she is having problems we can go catch her up, take some more tissue samples see if she's suffering some toxins out there in the water," explained Askew.  "Whatever her problem is we can see what changes are going on out there in the environment."

Lefty's release is being helped out by Fish and Wildlife Services.

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