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Sea turtle released in bay (with photo gallery)

BRADENTON BEACH — “Mate,” a juvenile green turtle nursed back to health at Mote Marine Laboratory after suffering an open fracture of the skull, was returned to the wild Friday morning.

Mote intern Brittany Childs carried the little turtle, its flippers furiously flapping, a few steps from Coquina Baywalk and placed it gently into Sarasota Bay.

And Mate did the rest, quickly swimming out of sight as a handful of spectators applauded.

Mate was rescued from Longboat Pass on March 20, during a time when many marine animals were in dire straits because of the prolonged cold snap.

Scientists believe Mate may have been sunning itself when it was struck by a boat.

While concern about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill remains, no oil has washed ashore in the Manatee-Sarasota area, or been reported anywhere near the barrier islands.

Lynne Byrd, medical care coordinator for Mote Marine, said “little guys” like Mate tend to stay in the bay, rather than the open sea.

Mate is believed to be between 2 and 10 years old, and is small enough to fit into a modest-sized tub.

Scientists are unable to tell the gender of juvenile green turtles, but say Mate could live to be about 80, and weigh 400 pounds, larger even than a loggerhead turtle.

Childs, a native of Chicago, said it was the first turtle she has ever been privileged to return to the wild — and that, she declared, “was exciting.”

Mote spokeswoman Hayley Rutger said she was uncertain how many sea turtles Mote has rehabilitated, but this past year has brought more than usual because of the uncharacteristically cold winter.

Mote’s Sea Turtle Hospital lists 13 patients, including the just-discharged Mate. The patient census includes nine greens with names including “Bob Marley” and “Ziggy”; three Kemp’s ridleys, “CiCi,” “Liam” and “Tarpon”; and one loggerhead, “Catch.”

For more information, visit www.mote.org, click on the science category at the top of the page, and scroll down to Sea Turtle Hospital.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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