The Turtle Hospital. Rescue, Rehab, Release.

An Amazing Rescue for ‘Taco’! (with video!)

On Cinco de Mayo there was a great team effort put forward by many in order to give help to a Loggerhead turtle that was floundering at the surface in Snake Creek, Islamorada. One of the front flippers was flapping at the surface and Kimberly Spiegel saw the turtle from her home in Venetian Shores and made a call for help to The Turtle Hospital. Kimberly had come to visit the hospital and after her guided program with us, she knew what to look for and what to do when she saw this turtle in distress.

taco in water from far
With no boat, Kimberly wasn’t able to get out to the turtle but was able to keep a close eye on him. Being an hour away from the turtle, we knew the current would wash the turtle away before we could get there. Luckily, the turtle was starting to drift right in front of the US Coast Guard Station! Rehabber Matt Brochhausen talked to Sara Maehr of the Coast Guard just as a Coast Guard Auxillary Team was returning to the dock after a training exercise. It was perfect timing as the team of David Gross, Patti Gross, Chris Matthews, Jim Matthews and Chris Carlsen eagerly agreed to head back out to find Taco! Coast Guardsmen Nick Vogele and Sarah Maehr joined in and they were immediately able to spot the turtle.

taco!!Patti Gross was onboard for the rescue and was able to describe what happened from there. ‘He was floating on one side and was struggling to descend, and when he did, he could only descend about 2 to 3 feet and then immediately floated back to the surface.  You could see that his shell had not been hit by a propeller, so he must have had gas that was prevented him from swimming.  The current was carrying him out through the creek into open ocean as the crew tried to figure out how to get him onto the back of the boat, while moving through the current without injury to the turtle or the boat and to keep all of the curious onlookers from getting too close and running over Taco when he would randomly pop back up to the surface.

‘The current carried him under the bridge and Coxswain David Gross had to make the decision to drive through under the bridge while Taco was carried through another opening and hope that when he came through he was not in water that was too shallow to negotiate the boat.

‘As the Team was carried onto the ocean side of Snake Creek, FWC Officer Scott LaRosa appeared. He had heard the call on the radio and came to assist if possible and/or necessary.

get-attachment.aspxAfter several failed attempts to capture Taco, it became quite apparent that someone was going to have go into the water to safely rescue the turtle; especially since now both rescue boats were in Snake Creek on a busy Sunday afternoon, and it was becoming rather dangerous condition with two boats guarding the turtle as he was being swept by the current into ocean.  Officer LaRosa negotiated the turtle into shallow water where he could safely stop his boat and he courageously entered the water sadfand captured Taco.  He tied a line onto one of his fore-front flippers.  The Auxiliary boat drove over to Officer LaRosa, who passed the line.

‘Taco was guided to the back of the boat and Nick climbed partially down the back ladder and picked up this huge turtle

He had to turn him partially sideways to get him through the opening of the ladder and both rescuer and turtle ended up on their backs, but at least in the transom of the boat!


TacoOther rescuers picked up the turtle just enough to allow Nick to climb out from underneath him and Taco was then turned over. He was exhausted from this experience, but had to cuts or propeller injuries!’ Rehabber Matt drove the ambulance and met the group at the dock. The group had decided to name him ‘Taco’ since it was Cinco de Mayo. The turtle was then transferred to the van for a check-up.


taco heart rateAfter checking his reflexes and heart rate, it appeared that Taco was slightly underweight but in pretty good shape. At the hospital, a fresh water dip removed the large number of barnacles so that an x-ray could be completed. Staff expected to see a large blockage in the intestines which can cause turtles to float (usually of trash, sponge, or shell fragments) but nothing significant was seen. Taco is still floating in his hospital tank but is active and hungry! The turtle is being treated with antibiotics and is expected to make a full recovery!

All cleaned up, Taco receives fluids and medications in his hospital tank.

All cleaned up, Taco receives fluids and medications in his hospital tank.

A big thank you to the dedicated team of rescuers! Including Kimberly Spiegel who spotted and watched the turtle until help arrived, the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxillary, AND the Florida Fish and Wildlife. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Check out a great video of Taco’s rescue created by Patti Gross of the US Coast Guard Auxillary by clicking the link below, enjoy!

Taco Rescue Video


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