Welcoming 'Poppy': Sea Turtle Inc. adopts non-releasable loggerhead

Sep. 30—SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Months after the loss of one of this facility's beloved long-stay residents, Sea Turtle, Inc. is giving a new sea turtle a place to call its forever home.

On Sunday, Sea Turtle Inc. staff welcomed a non-releasable female loggerhead sea turtle to its facility.

The turtle was delivered by a private plane from Florida thanks to Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit that specializes in the relocation of endangered or threatened animals.

The loggerhead sea turtle will be filling the empty tank of Fred, a loggerhead sea turtle and former long-stay resident of Sea Turtle, Inc. that passed away in June.

"When Fred passed away, that was devastating for us after decades of him being here and receiving care," Sea Turtle, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Wendy Knight said. "It really was exciting that we had an opportunity to find an unreleasable sea turtle that was somewhere else and bring them."

Poppy was found floating in the Florida Keys after being struck by a boat in May 2020 and immediately received care at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida Keys.

From the boat strike, Poppy lost one of her back flippers and developed buoyancy, which caused her to be non-releasable.

Knight explained that the two things that a sea turtle has to be able to do is go to the bottom of the ocean to eat and go all the way to the top to breathe.

Because Poppy became buoyant, her back end would float and make it difficult for her to swim up and draw breath.

"Eventually, if she would have not been found and rescued, it would have been fatal for her," Knight said. "After the treatment for the boat injury, there is a process where we essentially counterweight so if you look closely at pictures of Poppy, she has weights on the back part of her shell that help push down the back end of her to counterbalance it to the front so she's able to swim and come up to the surface to draw breath."

Knight said this is something that will require constant evaluation.

"As she grows, the weights will be too light and she'll become buoyant again and of course, she's underwater all the time so the weights will eventually fall away and we'll have to re-attach them and re-counterbalance," she added. "She'll require that for the lifetime that she's here."

Poppy is about 220 pounds. Based on her size, she's estimated to be between 25 to 35 years old.

Prior to being adopted by Sea Turtle Inc., Poppy was originally named Matthew at The Turtle Hospital.

"One of the interesting things about sea turtles, depending on their age, it can be difficult to tell their gender," Knight explained. "By the time they realized that she's a female, she had already been named Matthew for quite some time."

The new sea turtle's name was put to a vote in an online voting campaign and was ultimately named Poppy by supporters of Sea Turtle Inc.

"With the opportunity to adopt her and bring her here, we thought this was a great new start and opportunity to have the supporters of Sea Turtle Inc. invested in Poppy before she gets here," Knight said. "The list of names that were chosen from were all submitted by staff and they are all themed around orange things because loggerheads are a little bit orange."

Sea Turtle, Inc. aquarist Maria Watson said its exciting knowing that they can provide a permanent home for a turtle in need.

"Poppy's very cute and active," Watson said. "It's really nice to see another turtle, especially another loggerhead back in that tank again. It's really special."

Watson said since Poppy's arrival on Sunday, she has settled into her tank.

"We do have substrate at the bottom, which provides a more natural environment for them like they would have sand in the wild," Watson explained. "She kind of stirred it up the first few days just being really active and now it's finally starting to clear up the tank and you can see her resting at the bottom, which is really cool."

Knight said being able to adopt Poppy is reflective of the support Sea Turtle Inc. has received from the community.

"Donations, having that funding available to us to do these kinds of things is what the mission's all about," she said. "It's something that we're totally dependent on donors to allow us to do and we're just privileged that we've had the ability to do that."

The facility's animal care staff will give a virtual update on Poppy in a Facebook Live video scheduled for Friday at 9:30 a.m.

To plan a visit to Sea Turtle Inc. or to make a donation, visit www.seaturtleinc.org.