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Stranded Turtle Hops Plane To Florida

December 3, 1987

MIAMI (AP) _ A rare sea turtle spoiled by two months of tender loving care in New Jersey was flown to its normal winter home in Florida in the passenger section of a commercial jet.

The turtle was rescued in October after getting stuck in the intake pipe at the Salem nuclear plant in Lower Alloways Creek, N.J., said Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J.

It provided to be a Kemp’s Ridley turtle, the most endangered of all sea turtles, said Schoelkopf.

Little is known about the species other than that their numbers seem to be dwindling. Only about 500 females lay eggs along Gulf of Mexico beaches each year.

As a result, he said, the turtle was treated with extra caution.

″We didn’t know how brain-damaged he was from lack of oxygen,″ Schoelkopf said. ″For the most part, he was in shock. We force-fed him for a month and a half.″

The 9-inch, gray and white turtle soon became voracious and spoiled. It developed a fondness for Brigantine back bay mussels.

During its two-month recovery, the turtle missed the fall migration.

Schoelkopf said sea turtles are sensitive to temperature changes, ruling out a release in the now-chilly water off New Jersey, and a 20-hour drive would not be good for the animal. Likewise, the turtle could not fly in airplane cargo holds, which often are cold or depressurized.

Allegheny commuter airlines, operated by Southern Jersey Airways, agreed to give free transportation to Schoelkopf and the turtle to Philadelphia on Wednesday, and made arrangements for a discounted Philadelphia-t o-Miami flight on USAir.

″It did involve waiving some restrictions,″ said Southern Jersey Airways spokeswoman Winnie McLees.

Schoelkopf said the turtle was placed in a crate under the seats.

Once in Miami, it will be gradually acclimated to Florida waters, then freed, he said.

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