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PHOTO GALLERY | Sea turtle returned to Gulf of Mexico after 18 months of rehab

A sea turtle rehabbed for boat-strike injuries for 18 months at Mote Marine in Sarasita was returned to the sea this morning, cheered on by a crowd including caregivers from Mote and the owner of the charter boat fleet that rescued it.

The young loggerhead sea turtle was released just after 10 a.m. near the northernmost lifeguard tower at Lido Beach, according to a news release.

The turtle is nicknamed “Catch” because it was rescued by the crew of the “Big Catch,” a charter boat in the Sarasota-based Flying Fish Fleet. The rescue was coordinated by Capt. Nick Froelich, First Mate Mark Bailey and the Fleet’s owner, Greg Clausen.

Today, Clausen joined a crowd of well-wishers to watch as Mote staff and interns returned Catch to the sea.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to see this turtle go back to the sea,” Clausen said in the release. “We’re so glad the Flying Fish Fleet could help with the rescue. That’s what we’re here for.”

The “Big Catch” crew found the turtle on Aug. 30, 2009, in waters off Sarasota. The turtle could not dive and its shell was coated with barnacles.

They retrieved the turtle and brought it to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

As Mote staff cleaned Catch’s upper shell, or carapace, they found two deep, old wounds most likely caused by a boat propeller. These wounds came close to damaging the turtle’s lungs and spine.

Mote staff carefully cleaned and treated Catch’s wounds and almost immediately Catch began eating — a great sign. During its stay at Mote, Catch received multiple health exams and blood tests, which showed the turtle was recovering nicely over time.

Catch’s shell healed well but it took time for the shell to harden enough so the turtle could be returned to the wild.

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