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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

Free At Last! ó 18 April 2002

Six months ago, on 16 October, a 13-year-old female terrapin was traumatically injured as she swam by the dredging operation off the town pier in Wellfleet Harbor.  Hit from above with such a violent force that her carapace was punctured and her left bridge was broken and crushed, Terrapin 1195 was found bleeding and in shock by a resident walking the morning beach.

She was taken to Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where she crashed our sea turtle stranding season planning session.  After quickly assessing her condition, I bundled #1195 into my roadster and sped the 40 miles to the Humane Society's Cape Wildlife Center in West Barnstable.  Dr. Rachel Blackmer, the CWC veterinary director, and Dr. Catherine Brown took charge.  The punctured carapace, which at first seemed the most serious injury, luckily revealed that no vital organ had been breached.  The crushed bridge on the other hand was so damaged that only soft tissue was holding her together.  They cleansed her wounds to avoid the risk of infection and taped her bridge in place.  The rest of the healing process would be up to #1195 assisted by the patient, skillful, and loving attention of the CWC staff.

With continued signs of progress, #1195 needed to begin her transition to freedom.  In early December, she came back north to Connemara Cottage and spent the rest of the winter in a heated, faux paludal tank, munching shucked clams and oysters to restore her shapely terrapin figure. In January during a checkup at CWC, the tape was removed.  Her bridge was still a bit wobbly, but it was time to let Nature begin to heal.  And so it did ó with rather miraculous results.  By early April the bridge had knitted back together (see Awakening ó 10 April 2002), and Bubbles (the name she revealed by her sub-surface antics) was raring to get back to life in the marsh.

This early spring heat wave and a 10:00 a.m. low tide provided the perfect conditions for her release today.  I paddled Duck Creek an hour beforehand to confirm that her sisters and brothers were awake and ready to receive their long lost friend.  Some faithful Terrapin Diary readers, most local but one from far-away Seattle, most two-legged but one with four, dropped by the Wellfleet pier to bid Bubbles a fond farewell and bon voyage.

A little after ten, we released Terrapin 1195 at the waterís edge under the scrutiny of our supportive local media.  I donít want to accuse Bubbles of hamming for the camera, certainly not a trait she would have learned from her winter host, but she did seem to strut toward the creek with a certain thespian flair.

And I must admit, it seemed oh so appropriate that her exit upstage center would be accompanied by a halo of bubbles.  Off she went, disappearing into the rich mucky waters of Duck Creek, without so much as a good-bye wave.  But then we didnít expect her to be grateful, only free.

(Bubbles’ press photo, next page.)