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  Yahoo News 15 May 07
Loggerhead sea turtle returns to wild
By Doug Gross, Associated Press Writer

A loggerhead sea turtle that was a popular attraction at the city aquarium departed Tuesday on a trip back to the Georgia coast where the reptile was hatched. Experts hope Dylan will soon be ready to thrive in the wild.

Tuesday morning, veterinarians at the Georgia Aquarium loaded the 7-year-old turtle into a van for a six-hour ride to Jekyll Island, where Dylan was first discovered as a hatchling straggler.

"Now is definitely the time," said Tonya Clauss, a veterinarian at the aquarium, where Dylan has been an attraction for the past two years. "It gives me goose bumps to know we're sending him back."

After Dylan was rescued, the turtle lived at Tidelands Nature Center, which offers hands-on science lessons to the public. But the loggerhead outgrew his surroundings, and Dylan was brought to the aquarium, the world's largest. The turtle now tips the scales at nearly 140 pounds.

"He reached the point where we felt the size of our exhibit wasn't meeting his needs," said Eric Gaglione, the aquarium's director of animal husbandry. Now, the newly opened Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island will wean Dylan from human contact.

When they think he's ready, perhaps in a couple of months, they'll tag him with a transmitter and release him into the Atlantic. The exact timing is "up to Dylan," said Bill Irwin, director of the state-run center. "The turtle will tell us when he's ready to go."

Through the monitor, scientists and visitors to the aquarium's Web site will be able to track Dylan's movements.

Few turtles have been released after growing up in captivity, and scientists hope to learn a lot from Dylan in his natural habitat, Irwin said.

While Aquarium staffers and others frequently refer to Dylan as male, it's nearly impossible to know a sea turtle's gender until it reaches adulthood, which may take 30 years.

Loggerhead sea turtles are classified as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. An adult loggerhead can weigh up to 350 pounds.

Related articles on Global: marine issues and sea turtles
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