Just in time for sea turtle mating season in the Florida Keys, a large 230-pound male loggerhead turtle, rehabilitated at the Turtle Hospital after being found entangled in crab trap line, was released off Pigeon Key on Feb. 18.

“Sheldon,” named by his rescuers stationed in the Middle Keys with the U.S. Coast Guard, was discovered in early February near the iconic Old Seven Mile Bridge.

“It’s mating season in the Florida Keys, so it’s important to get this massive male turtle back out to sea so that he can begin mating and help preserve the species,” said Turtle Hospital general manager Bette Zirkelbach. “To be able to take a reproductive male, rehabilitate him in less than two weeks’ time, and return him to his ocean home … this is a high for all of us. This is why we do what we do.” 

Treatment at the turtle rescue facility included wound care, antibiotics and a healthy diet of mixed seafood, such as fish and squid.

Before being released, Sheldon was fitted with a satellite transmitter tag by research scientists from the Summerland Key-based Mote Marine Laboratory to help them track and study data on migratory and mating patterns of adult male loggerheads.

Sheldon’s tagging illustrates the importance of being able to see how these turtles are doing once they are released back into the wild, since males don’t return to beaches where they emerged as hatchlings. 

“It’s critical to conserve sea turtles like Sheldon because almost all species of sea turtles in the world are in danger of being extinct on our watch,” said Zirkelbach. 

Based on his size and the circumference of his head, Zirkelbach estimates the 230-pound reptile is at least 50 years old and well into his prime as a sexually reproductive male.

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