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A Bittersweet Bye-bye to "Little Girl"

Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories

The year-end holidays will be a bittersweet time at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and Aquarium in Panacea. The staff there will be saying goodbye to a long-time friend and have invited everyone who’s interested to come to the farewell party.

Cypress Rudloe, managing director of the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and Aquarium, remembered the day in 2007 when the loggerhead sea turtle named “Little Girl” arrived from the National Marine Fishery Service’s Sea Turtle Captive Rearing Program in Galveston, Texas.

“We contacted them (because) we needed a turtle at the time and they brought her over and she was about the size of a dinner plate,” he said. “Now she’s about 4-feet long and weighs almost 100 pounds.”

Obviously, Rudloe said, “Little Girl” isn’t so little anymore.

“We’ve had her for about 7 years and we’ve been raising her up and getting her big. And now the FWC has kind of dinged on us that she’s able to go back to the population so she can start breeding and having baby sea turtles and keeping the population numbers up.”

“FWC” being the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But sending Little Girl back to the wild is much easier said than done because of all the time she’s spent in captivity.

“And we’ve been working to give her a natural diet in the wild and get her desensitized to humans,” Rudloe explained. “Trying to get her looking for what she’d eat in the wild, like horseshoe crabs and sponges. We’re able to give her that exact same diet that she’d be foraging for in the wild.”

Still, Rudloe admitted the prospect of saying goodbye to Little Girl is tough.

“Oh, it’s heartbreaking actually,” he lamented. “We’re really losing a friend. She’s been here for years and she’s definitely our girl. The good news I guess is that SeaWorld is bringing us up a non-releasable sea turtle. So the sea turtle we’re getting has been hit by a boat and then was blinded by that, so this turtle can’t go back to the wild.”

Plus, Rudloe said the prime purpose of the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab has always been to help nature take its course.

“It’s bittersweet because on one hand we’re losing a friend; on the other hand if she gets back in the wild and she’s out there having baby turtles and helping keep our population going, you know she’s doing what she’s meant to do.”

The final farewell, Rudloe says, will take place on Thursday, December 29th at 3:00 p.m.

“We’re going to be at Bald Point State Park and we’re going to be out there a little before to have a little goodbye to her before we release her back into the wild. Yeah, we’ll probably have a little sending-off party, so to speak.”

And it’s a party, Rudloe said, to which everyone is invited.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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