Sen. Thad Cochran helps release three endangered sea turtles

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - U.S. Senator Thad Cochran experienced a first during a visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Tuesday. The senator helped return three endangered sea turtles to the wild, releasing them just south of Ship Island.

The turtles were stranded along the coast following the BP oil spill and rehabilitated at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

Scooter, Squirt and Skipper were first loaded onto a boat at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor. Each was fitted with a specially designed satellite transmitter, which should provide some valuable research information.

"It's a study that will give us answers. We've tagged six of them. And this way we can see where they go, their movement and migration patterns, what habitats they use, why did they come here and did they come from another place?" said Dr. Moby Solangi, Director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.

A half hour boat ride took the trio of turtles to the chosen release spot, the blue green waters of the Gulf of Mexico just south of Ship Island.

Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran had the honor of helping return these animals to the wild.

Shortly after release, the first turtle's antenna was seen poking above the waves as it became accustomed to freedom. Don't worry, the transmitters are temporary.

"These are very safe. They'll eventually fall off in a year or so. As the turtle shell grows, they'll fall off. And the battery only lasts about a year," said Dr. Solangi.

"Quite an experience," said Sen. Cochran. "Saved a few turtles we hope. They all kind of took off under their own course and direction."

Once released, the final turtle, named Scooter, headed straight for the media boat. He paused for pictures, then headed for open water.

"And off into the sunset he goes," said an IMMS worker, as she snapped photos of the turtle.

"And these are good biological indicators. Their health and survival is also the health and survival of the eco system," said Dr. Solangi.

You can track the location of the turtles online. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is plotting the movement of the animals on its website.

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