A nature videographer flying a drone spotted an endangered loggerhead sea turtle struggling in the red tide. Lui quickly alerted wildlife officials who showed up to rescue him.

The distressed loggerhead turtle was captured by nature videographer Michael McCarthy, owner of See Through Canoe Company.See through canoe

  • A videographer in Florida saw a loggerhead turtle lingering near the ocean’s surface last month.

  • After quickly alerting officials, the turtle was rescued and is still recovering in a rehabilitation facility.

  • The rehabilitation facility confirmed that the turtle had been exposed to red tide, a toxic algae bloom.

A nature videographer in Florida was touring the coast last month with his drone, as he often does, when he noticed something unusual in the water: a loggerhead sea turtle lingering near the surface.

“It was pretty easy to spot him because he was floating on the surface and he didn’t dive,” Michael McCarthy, the owner of See Through Canoe Company, told Insider. “Normally when you see a turtle in the ocean, they’re only on the surface for 20 seconds to a minute, just to catch their breath and come back down.”

But this turtle, off a beach near St. Petersburg, was on the surface. After zooming in with his drone, it was obvious to McCarthy that the turtle needed help, and he needed it fast.

He spent about a minute of footage documenting the turtle’s behavior, knowing it would matter, before rushing home to upload the video and call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC.

“When you call FWC or other agencies, they don’t know if you have experience with turtles or marine life, or if you have any idea what you’re really looking at,” McCarthy explained. He knew the video would help him show the turtle needed help.

FWC put him in touch with one of their biologists, who called him back within minutes. He started asking him a lot of questions about the situation, but he knew time was of the essence. He interrupted her and explained that he could send her the video.

“That way you can see for yourself and assess for yourself exactly the situation and know how quickly she needs help,” McCarthy told her. She added that she had the exact GPS coordinates of where the turtle was, thanks to her drone.

Within the hour, a marine biologist from FWC was at the beach.

The biologist swam through the water and gently guided the large sea turtle towards the shore. Once on the sand, another sunbather used his umbrella to protect the turtle from the sun.

FWC notified Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which was nearby and has a dedicated rescue and rehabilitation facility for marine life. A team from the aquarium arrived shortly after and were able to get the turtle on a stretcher and into their van in minutes, according to McCarthy.

“Everybody was on the ball. We all had our A-game. Nobody stopped,” he said. “And hopefully that will result in a full recovery of that turtle.”

Video of the ordeal shared by McCarthy and the aquarium showed the turtle appearing to be panting as it stood on the beach and was carried away on the stretcher.

After being rescued Feb. 28, the turtle, which has been named Shenandoah, was still being treated at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium as of Friday, an aquarium representative told Insider.

A patient page on the aquarium’s website shows photos of Shenandoah, which weighs 251 pounds and whose shell is about 3 feet long. Testing of the samples confirmed what biologists suspected, that Shenandoah was being exposed to high levels of red tide, which can impact the turtle’s nervous system and make it weak or cause other abnormal neurological function, putting it at risk of drowning or be attacked by predators.

The aquarium rep said once Shenandoah recovers, it will be released back into the ocean, likely near where it was rescued.

Endangered loggerhead turtles are among marine life in Florida affected by red tide, a harmful algae bloom that produces toxins that can kill marine life, make shellfish unsafe to eat and pollute the surrounding air. Red tides, so called because they can make water appear red, have occurred along the coasts of the United States, but sadly appear on Florida’s Gulf Coast every summer.

McCarthy said that in addition to Shenandoah, he recently saw a dead turtle, a dead manatee and dead fish wash ashore, and that seeing this red tide event so early in the year was a little “unsettling” for that which could happen this summer.

“I’m glad I just did what needed to be done. I was busy, I didn’t want to stop everything, but I had to live with myself,” he said. “And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that unless I just dropped what I was doing and did what needed to be done.”

He added that he was just grateful that he was able to spot this turtle when he did, before it struggled even harder, like other marine life he’s seen, and ended up on land already dead.

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