LONGBOAT KEY -- The green sea turtle swam for a couple of minutes around the two men who released him Monday into Sarasota Bay, giving a little wave with his flipper before swimming off.
"To see this poor turtle, whose shell was in really bad shape and was rescued, to see Mote take it back in the water and watch it swim off today was great," said Tom Waldrop, one of two men who found CJ the turtle a year earlier. "I don't know a better outcome you could have than that."
"He was kind of hanging around us, just saying thanks I guess," added Mike Leworthy.
The two Mote Marine Laboratory employees were fishing off the Mote dock in Sarasota about 11 p.m. Sept. 28, 2013, when they spotted the severely injured turtle.
"We just happened to look over, and in the small stretch of space between the dock as the water is flowing into the Gulf, here comes this turtle. Two seconds later and we would've missed it," Waldrop said. "So we got
lucky. We got a net, were able to pick him up, get him into a tank and call Mote, and they did the rest."
Waldrop said everything had to go perfectly to save CJ. They were right next to a saltwater tank they could put him in at Mote, which gave CJ the best chance to recover.
Given his injuries, there was a chance he was beyond saving, Waldrop said.
"His shell was in terrible shape. You could really see the lung, the cut was really deep," he said. "I didn't think the turtle was going to make it through the night."
Mote employees were nervous about his health, too, and kept him on the critical list for a long time.
CJ is still a juvenile, which puts his age anywhere between 2 and 25 years old, and came in weighing 12 pounds. When he was released Monday morning he weighed 18 pounds.
"With good nutrition over time he healed up really nicely," said Lynne Byrd, rehabilitation medical care coordinator at Mote who took care of CJ.
Green sea turtles can grow up to 200 or 300 pounds, Mote officials said.
CJ had plenty of energy when released, waving his flippers around as the two men carried him into the ocean. About 20 onlookers came to see him off.
Waldrop said he was excited to see CJ re-enter his natural environs.
"I've been checking on him," Waldrop said. "I really didn't think he was going to survive, so that's a tribute to Mote and the folks that took care of him."