Jonah is Free
Photo/Text by Donna Malloy
The familiar taste of salt. Instinct draws Leggerhead sea turtle Jonah back to her territorial waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is hoped that one day she will return to lay eggs on the shores of Clearwater Beach.
Three years and 50-plus pounds later, the Loggerhead sea turtle again tasted the familiar salty flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. Named after her rescuer little Jonah Aboulafia, the female sea turtle was found floating off the shore of Sand Key; emaciated and covered with barnacles and algae.
Because Loggerhead sea turtles are territorial, Jonah spent the last three years of her life in a solitary tank at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). Physically weak, the 12-15 year old turtle was housed in a shallow tank in order for her to be fed more easily. Young Aboulafia faithfully visited his namesake weekly, assisted in her feedings and rejoiced in her gradual weight gain.
Eventually, Jonah’s “boat hit” injury to her carapace began to heal. In the meantime, pre-teen Connor Krajnik, of Indian Rocks Beach, learned of Jonah’s plight. Inspired and motivated, Krajnik commenced his jewelry business to raise money for the sick sea turtle.
Saving his weekend earnings for several years, Krajnik sold $1,000 worth of sea-inspired necklaces and donated his earnings to the aquarium. With his money, CMA purchased the stretcher that would eventually return Jonah to her natural habitat.
Tuesday, March 24, 9:00 a.m., Clearwater Beach - Covered but not concealed in a damp beige towel, the white pick-up truck slowly headed toward the crowd that has gathered at the beach. Lowered to the sand via her new stretcher, the Loggerhead sea turtle paused ever so slightly on the sand and then slowly dragged her now 134 pound body toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Taking the plunge, Jonah was now returned to the only life she knew before the accident which left her near death. But then, Jonah began to swim back toward the shore; had she been imprinted? After all, the kitchen at CMA was plentiful for the last three years; could she adapt?
Silently, the crowd followed Jonah as she cautiously hugged the shoreline swimming south. Was she trying to come back? Then, she surfaced as if to get her bearings and paddled west toward the “Slow Wake” sign.
A young man from the crowd lifted his arms up toward the sky and shouted: “She’s free.” With salty tears, we all wished her well and secretly hoped she’d return to nest on our shore this summer.
Since 2002, CMA has released 144 sea turtles. The aquarium is currently home to 17 turtles, including a Kemp’s Ridley (most endangered), Green and Hawksbill turtle. CMA oversees sea turtle nesting on Pinellas County beaches, locating and protecting nests and ensuring the hatchlings make their way into the ocean. Sea turtle nesting season runs each year from May through October.Photo by Jeni Hatter, Director of Media Relations, CMA/Text by Donna Malloy Joy. As rescuer Jonah and dad Jared Aboulafia joyously look on, Loggerhead sea turtle Jonah returns home to her Gulf of Mexico.
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