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Happy News and New Year from Turtles Fly Too! A Recap that Surprises All!

Cape Cod Beach at night
Rescuing Sea turtles along Cape Cod beaches. CREDIT: Lauren Owens Lambert
2020: TF2 Transported 536 Endangered Sea Turtles in Less than Two Months

Think of what we can do in 2021!


Turtles Fly Too ends 2020 with several new records: completing our largest number of total missions flown from coast to coast; and transporting 536 cold-stunned sea turtles, the most flown during our history of assisting NOAA Fisheries in this program, both accomplished in spite of challenges that could have slowed or completely stopped our rescue efforts. We believe our precious cargo has to be delivered, and thanks to the determination of all of the rescue organizations involved, we completed missions safely every time.

Chuck Yanke with Bob from SeaWorld

Chuck Yanke, during one of three stops he made early on to deliver Sea Turtles to Florida.

This fall, because so many rehabilitation centers could not accept large quantities of sea turtles or were not accepting them at all, Turtles Fly Too flew a record number of 19 missions to 49 rehabilitation facilities. Our flights became milk runs with a few dropped off here and there. It is important to recognize and thank new partners this year, had not opened their doors, there would have been no place to take these sea turtles for their long-term rehabilitation. It took considerable outreach and establishment of new relationships to ensure their rehabilitation needs could be met.  

Fall 2020 proved to be the second largest cold stun event in the past 30 years, with MASS Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary reporting 1,010 sea turtles collected. Turtles Fly Too transported 536 sea turtles south and west to new and existing facilities, as so many rehabilitation centers previously used were unable to accept turtles. We can report that the cold stun season is pretty much ended, and thanks to all the organizations involved, this year represents the largest survival rate so far.



release at Jekyll Island

In the early days of COVID, we were called upon to fly two separate missions to release sea turtles in Jekyll Island by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which would have traditionally been handled by organizations such as the New England Aquarium in their nearby waters, yet due to staff cuts, the sea turtles were flown south and, using social distancing, were immediately released by Dr. Terry Norton and his staff into the wild blue ocean. New protocols required boxes to be placed along the beach 6-10 feet apart and masks worn by all, meanwhile the turtles could care less as they happily floated out to sea. Thank you Turtle Fliers Ed and Alyssa Filangeri, Tim Green, Ken Andrews, and Jack Schmidt, who assisted in these missions and Craig Stevens and Joe Murray for their coverage of the events.

Brenda Tibbs with Pistachio headed for Brookfield Zoo.

Paul & Sherry Schubert with St. Louis Aquarium Staff with Quasimodo.

Warren and Bethany Brown, and daughter Lily loading Tsunami, bound for St. Louis Aquarium.

During the summer months, we transported several sea turtles which could not be released due to permanent issues to new homes in St. Louis and Chicago. Warren and Bethany Brown, along with their daughter Lily flew from Texas to Georgia Sea Turtle Center to St. Louis; Brenda Tibbs and co-pilot Tim Lanagan flew from Maryland to Tampa Bay Aquarium, to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, then home; and Paul and Sherry Schubert flew a second sea turtle from Georgia Sea Turtle Center to St. Louis after it was determined the two sea turtles were of the same sex and could co-exist long-term at the aquarium together.

We continue to serve both coasts as we received a call from the west coast to transport “Soleado,” a Guadalupe Seal Pup from Seattle, WA to Sausalito, CA, which was found stranded off the Oregon coast. This was one of our largest disappointments of the year, as the young pup was delivered successfully, yet succumbed due to his extreme condition the following day.

Berni, with Jeff Miller arriving at Sea World San Diego

Our second mission out west took over six months to complete as we all worked to get an Olive Ridley sea turtle across the border from Vancouver, BC down to SeaWorld in San Diego. “Berni” was released with a tracking device within a week of transport, yet the day after we flew the mission, the Vancouver Aquarium announced they were closing their doors to the public due to funding shortfalls. The only way to get Berni home as international flights were restricted, was to drive him across, and the mission was almost aborted when US Customs had issues with his paperwork. We last tracked Berni floating offshore near Baja, California. Thanks to Dave Sutton and Gilbert Florescu who transported Soleado, and Matt Thurber and Jeff Miller who transported Berni from Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA.

Army Corp of Engineers lifting cable off of whale

One of the most harrowing missions this July was a humpback whale found entangled and barely able to raise its head above water stranded in New York’s harbor. Thanks to our Turtle Fliers Brian Cleary and Ed Filangeri, we were able to transport the disentanglement team and their gear from Provincetown, MA to the site quickly, where the trained team from the Center for Coastal Studies spent two days working with many partners to free the whale. As fear mounted that they would not be able to remove the lines, the Army Corps of Engineers brought in a crane and lifted over 4,000 pounds of steel cable and fishing line, allowing the whale to swim free.