After months of preparation and waiting for the ideal weather conditions, the Two Oceans Aquarium finally released Yoshi, its large resident loggerhead turtle today on 16 December 2017, off the coast of Cape Town.
Yoshi, weighing 183kg and measuring 107cm long and 89cm across, was transported by boat to her release point - 27 nautical miles south west of Hout Bay in 20.6°C water.
Given that female sea turtles always return to their natal beaches (where they hatched) to lay their eggs, it is appropriate that Yoshi is released off Cape Town so that she has the opportunity to follow her natural instinct towards her home range, either up the east coast or the west coast of Africa.
On Friday 15 December 2017, Yoshi was sedated and removed from the I&J Ocean Exhibit. This required a lot of man- and woman-power!
She was then fitted with a satellite tag so that we can track her movements and monitor her behaviour over the next few years – hopefully as many as three! We will share all updates as and when we can right here on the Aquarium website.
The release of Yoshi today was a monumental event in the lives of our passionate and dedicated turtle rehab team. Safe to say all our staff members have grown extremely attached to this icon of the Aquarium. There were few words and many tears on the boats as this humungous beauty made her first splash in 20 years into the wild waters of South Africa. Yoshi disappeared and swam off the moment she hit the water.
What happens next is up to her sharp instincts and the course of nature. The threats that Yoshi is likely to face out there are anthropogenic: plastic pollution, habitat destruction and harmful fishing practises are threatening the status of all sea turtle species. Because she is so big, Yoshi is not likely to fall victim to any natural predators.
Yoshi was the size of a dinner plate when she arrived at the Aquarium in 1997. She was handed over to the Aquarium by Yoshi who was a chef on board a fishing vessel in Table Bay harbour. It is estimated that she was between three and five years of age at the time of her arrival at the Aquarium. She has grown into a magnificent ambassador for her species and has enthralled thousands of visitors at the Aquarium over the years.
Loggerhead turtles live for between 80 and 100 years so given Yoshi’s current age, her excellent health, and her display of certain behaviours, it was decided that it is time for her to be released back into the ocean. We then began the process of readying her for release, which mostly entailed getting her fit enough to swim the thousands of kilometres she’s going to face, and getting her to lose a bit of the weight she gained while living the life of a pampered soul in the I&J Ocean Exhibit at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
“Yoshi is an absolute legend, and has been part of our turtle conservation and rehabilitation story for many years. She arrived at the Aquarium broken and lost, and it is amazing to know that we contributed to giving her that one in a thousand chance of reaching reproductive age, ” says Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson.
Loggerhead turtles reach sexual maturity between the ages of 18 and 30 years so Yoshi is now at reproductive age. Considering that loggerhead turtles have been classified as endangered and that worldwide programmes and initiatives are underway to ensure the survival of the species, it is appropriate that Yoshi is released in order for her to contribute to the gene pool.
Although Yoshi no doubt stole the show of the release day, we were also extremely pleased to be releasing back into the wild 27 loggerhead hatchlings that have been recovering in our rehab-and-release facility for various lengths of time since April this year.
The rehabilitation of these wonderful little loggerhead ambassadors was made possible by 26 incredibly generous members of the public and organisations who sponsored their specialist care through our Adopt a Turtle programme. Thank you to each and everyone one of you who made this huge difference – click here to read about each turtle and to see who sponsored its care.
A history of turtle releases
Yoshi is not the first sea turtle to be released by the Aquarium. Each year the Two Oceans Aquarium rehabilitates and releases sea turtles that have been found stranded on Western Cape beaches. These turtles range in size from less than a kilogram to more than 80kg. In 2015, two hawksbill turtles, Otto and Winston, were rehabilitated at the Aquarium, released with satellite tags and tracked after their release. “Through tracking the hawksbill turtles, Otto and Winston, post-release we gained confidence in knowing that our rescue turtles can continue life successfully in their natural environment. Otto swam to Madagascar, Winston swam to Gabon – I cannot wait to see where Yoshi goes! She is ready to cross oceans. We will follow her every move as long as we get satellite transmission (hopefully for a few years), and yes, the NSRI is on standby should she need any assistance,” said Maryke.
Did you know?
- There are seven sea turtle species worldwide.
- Of the seven species loggerhead turtles have the most diverse distribution worldwide.
- Loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles are the only two species of sea turtles that nest on the South African coast, more specifically the northern beaches of KwaZulu-Natal. • Female sea turtles use the magnetic fields of the earth to navigate back to their natal beaches.
- Male sea turtles never leave the ocean and females only leave the ocean to lay their eggs.
- Loggerhead turtles are incredibly smart swimmers and use ocean currents to travel vast distances between feeding grounds, but only actively swim for about two hours a day.
- Only one or two sea turtle hatchlings survive to maturity.
- Sea turtles face serious threats, which include being caught as by-catch by the fishing industry, plastic ingestion and ghost nets (discarded fishing gear that entangles a turtle, preventing it from surfacing for air and leading to the drowning of the animal.)