The crystal-clear waters of Martha’s Vineyard attracted a different kind of vacationer when a giant loggerhead turtle spent the Fourth of July feeding on jellyfish off the coast of the Island.
The 330-pound loggerhead turtle, Munchkin, which was recently released on Cape Cod by the New England Aquarium, vacationed along the fertile shores of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket alongside thousands of beachgoing tourists.
The aquarium placed a GPS tracking device on Munchkin’s back to study migratory patterns of loggerhead turtles and get a better understanding of where the turtles stop to feed.
According to Tony LaCasse, media relations director for the aquarium, the turtle’s position is broadcast live via an interactive map whenever she surfaces for air.
LaCasse said researchers at the aquarium weren’t certain where Munchkin would travel during the warm summer months, but because of the amount of jellyfish that inhabit Vineyard waters, she chose to make the trek.
After her release on July 2, Munchkin swam across Nantucket Sound in a little over 30 hours, then began to search for food along the Chappaquiddick shore.
She continued to scour the shoreline for jellies and crabs that are a staple of her diet, according to LaCasse. Now, Munchkin is making a beeline for Block Island.
LaCasse said aquarium scientists are happy the turtle is starting to head into deeper waters, away from areas where human impacts account for a large amount of turtle mortalities. Things like prop strikes and entanglements in fishing nets often injure and kill sea turtles.
LaCasse told the story of how Munchkin was rescued from the waters off Wellfleet after being entangled by a fishing net and losing a part of her front flipper. Because of her injury, LaCasse said she was emaciated and hypothermic. But clinicians at the aquarium slowly nursed her back to health, and now she is able to make her long ocean journeys once more.
“Only one in 1,000 loggerhead hatchlings make it to adulthood — Munchkin is an incredible example of resilience and the power of nature,” LaCasse said.