A loggerhead sea turtle named Ike, age 2, made a short trip Friday to prepare him for a much longer journey he’ll undertake next year when he’s released into the Atlantic.
Chantal Audran, acting director of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, plucked Ike from his upstairs tank at the newly built beachfront museum and carried the 10-pounder downstairs to a 4,500-gallon fiberglass pool in the undercroft where Ike can more freely stretch his flippers. A group of sea campers scooched forward to get nose to nose with Ike at the tank’s viewing window.
With the campers cheering him on, Ike swam laps around his new home, surfaced for air, splashed Tybee Mayor Shirley Sessions and dispatched a live blue crab with ease.
“He’s so cute,” said Sessions, who delayed the start of her vacation to attend Ike’s “graduation.”
Staff at the marine science center rescued Ike in 2020 when he was a tiny straggler too weak to climb out of his North Beach nest on his own. He is the latest in a series of rescued loggerheads who serve as the center’s “marine debris ambassador.”
“You can’t care about something unless you know it,” Audran said. “And so once you attach a name — Ike — and an individual to a species — the loggerhead sea turtle. I believe that gives the stewardship to the human. Once you’ve made a connection, you care more about sea turtles. Once the education is there, once you’ve met an individual, you care that much more.”
Visitors still ask by name about Admiral, the sea turtle released last year, Audran said. Admiral was one of seven hatchlings a couple from Kentucky illegally snatched from the beach. The marine science center took custody of them when they were found in a hotel room at Admiral’s Inn on Tybee. Admiral’s siblings were released but she became a visitor favorite with her unusual backstory.
Loggerheads can’t easily be sexed, so the center alternates between male and female names and identities. Ike is named for Ikea, which has donated to the center.
Ike’s new tank is the largest in the science center’s history, 25 times larger than where he lived previously. It will allow Ike and his successors to strengthen their muscles and sharpen their hunting skills before they’re released. Overhead lights provide Ike with the UV light he needs to grow properly.
To keep the turtle safe and answer visitors’ questions, a staffer will remain nearby during visiting hours. At night, a custom-made cover will keep out any wily local predators like raccoons.
On Friday, Audran made note of the bubbles exiting Ike’s tail end. “Those are turtle farts,” she stage whispered to the delighted campers.
Ike will remain in his new tank until next year, when he’s released into the ocean. Until then staffers will keep him well fed. Along with the blue crab, his welcoming meal included a heart-shaped ring of frozen shrimp.
“He needs the room to move around to gain muscle,” Audran said. “It’s important that when he gets released next year he’s nice and plump.”
The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.