Munchkin, the biggest loggerhead sea turtle to come through the New England Aquarium’s Quincy Animal Care Facility, has spent the last three months in the warm ocean waters off the coast of North Carolina.

After a November 21, 2018, stranding on Great Island in Wellfleet, Munchkin was admitted to the Quincy facility with significant wounds along her right front flipper and left hind flipper, possibly from an entanglement. After nine months of rehabilitation in Quincy, she was released on July 2, 2019, on a Cape Cod beach.

Since late November 2019, she has been located in the mid-continental shelf waters between the Outer Banks and Wilmington, N.C., where the water temperature is between 68 and 78 degrees. We know that she’s made a good choice, because this puts Munchkin in “Critical Overwintering Habitat” for loggerhead turtles, designated by NOAA Fisheries in 2014. Critical habitat designations are based on best available science, so we can be confident that Munchkin is in the right place, at the right time, and has made a smooth transition to life in the wild.

Before being released, Munchkin was outfitted with a GPS satellite tag, which will provide researchers with information about whether she resumes normal loggerhead sea turtle behavior and where she overwinters.

Her tag reports both the water temperature and depths of her travels. She has been making many long (2-plus hours), deep (more than 200 feet) dives that would put her on the ocean floor. Since adult loggerheads specialize in benthic prey (crabs and mollusks), we can safely assume that Munchkin’s North Carolina visit has included plenty of time at the raw bar.

Map of Munchkin's track overlaid with the critical habitat map from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

We expect her to remain in this area for the next month or so before making a spring-time move. While we would be surprised if Munchkin nested so soon after her rehabilitation, we will keep an eye on her nearshore movements.

Her GPS tag will allow us to pinpoint any trips ashore. Loggerhead nesting season in the United States is from April through September, with peak nesting activity in early summer months of June and July.

We hope her tag lasts a full year, so we can see if Munchkin nests. Thanks for following Munchkin’s journey – 236 days and counting!

Munchkin has been located off the North Carolina coast since November.
Munchkin has been located off the North Carolina coast since November.
Munchkin in the Quincy animal care facility
Munchkin in the Quincy Animal Care Facility (Photo: Vanessa Kahn)

 Read more about Munchkin and her journey

Conservation Context

The world’s seven species of sea turtles have roamed the oceans for hundreds of millions of years. But today, most of these species are endangered and all are threatened due to unprecedented threats from humans, including fishing bycatch, entanglement, boat strike, poaching, loss of nesting habitat, pollution, oil spills, and climate change.