Gulf World Marine Institute released a loggerhead sea turtle named "Chester" into the Gulf of Mexico after about two and a half months of rehabilitation on Oct. 24, 2019.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Three-year-old Audrey Rosenthal was relieved to hear that the fishing hook that was logged in the throat of a loggerhead sea turtle nicknamed "Chester" was safely removed.
The hook, which was about the size of the palm of her hand, was removed by Gulf World Marine Institute in August.
A fisherman accidentally caught Chester off the M.B. Miller County Pier at the beginning of August. Pier staff alerted Gulf World Marine Institute and Chester was safely escorted to the wildlife rehabilitation facility.
"We have a great working relationship with both the city and the county piers," Gulf World Marine Institute Stranding Coordinator Lauren Albrittain said.
"If a fisherman accidentally hooks a sea turtle, they give us a call and we’re able to rescue that animal and bring it to our facility. And that allows us to make sure they don’t have any other issues. Like a second or a third hook."
Chester unfortunately had two hooks. A hook that was lodged inside of his mouth was easily removed without surgery. However a second, much larger hook in his esophagus required surgery. Chester spent about six weeks recovering from surgery and was recently cleared for release.
Rosenthal and Albrittain joined about 100 other well wishers on Thursday morning to watch Gulf World Marine Institute release Charlie into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf World volunteers helped Chester out of a plastic container and carried the loggerhead to the waterline. Chester crawled into the water to the sound of applause.
Anyone who spots a stranded or deceased sea turtle, dolphin or whale is encouraged to immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 or #FWC on a cell phone.
Albrittain recommended that fishermen be mindful and cautious while fishing around turtles.
"And just know that if anything does happen, you’re not going to get in trouble. We understand that it happens," she said. "We actually prefer that you call us instead of cut the line because then that turtle is swimming around with a hook in its mouth."