BOCA GRANDE, FL- On Friday, Dec. 13, Mote Marine Laboratory will release “Wildman,” a juvenile green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) that was found by a Mote research vessel operating earlier this summer in Pine Island Sound. The turtle, which was treated for papilloma tumors in Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital, will be released at about 10:30 a.m. from Gasparilla State Park on Boca Grande (near the lighthouse).
“Wildman was found in Pine Island Sound, so releasing the turtle off Boca Grande puts him right back in his neighborhood,” said Lynne Byrd, medical care coordinator. Students from The Island School are expected to attend the release.
When the turtle was found in August, Wildman had a number of fibropapilloma tumors, cauliflower-like growths believed to be caused by a virus. The tumors are evidence of a disease called fibropapillomatosis, or FP. The growths can be life threatening when they affect a turtle’s ability to forage for food or when the tumors grow internally on vital organs.
Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital, located on Mote’s main Sarasota campus, is one of only four facilities in Florida that routinely houses and treats turtles with these tumors. Because the way the virus is transmitted remains unknown, turtles with FP must be quarantined and kept away from turtles being treated for other illnesses — meaning that Mote essentially has two sea turtle hospitals.
Mote’s medical care team treats FP turtles by using laser surgery to remove the tumors. Then the turtles are kept for several months following treatment to make sure no tumors grow back. Once the turtles are deemed healthy, Mote returns them to the wild — usually close to where they were found. “Sometimes turtles with FP can continue to have recurrences of the disease,” said Mote Veterinarian and Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Abraham Robinson, II. “Fortunately, Wildman hasn’t shown any sign of tumor regrowth, so we’re able to return him to the waters where he was found.”
In early 2013, Mote opened a new satellite office on Boca Grande as a place where residents and visitors could learn more about Mote’s current and future marine research programs in Charlotte Harbor — studies that include work with tarpon, snook, large coastal shark species and even red tides.
Releasing Wildman from Boca Grande offers residents an opportunity to see some of the other work that Mote is focused on.