The smallest of three turtles released at the Poor Knights Island seemed reluctant to leave his caregivers from Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium but the other two didn't hang around for fond farewells.
Two hawksbills and one green turtle - genders unknown - were released yesterday after spending much of the past year at the Auckland aquarium. As with about 12 others recovered from New Zealand waters in the past year, they were sick as well as a long way from home when found.
The smaller hawksbill, called Shorty, had been found in the Waitemata Harbour and the larger one, Mako, on the Manukau Harbour. Jim was found on Ninety Mile Beach.
Shorty was so tangled in rope and fishing net, the shell and underbelly were badly damaged. It could have been that way for nearly a year, said Kelly Tarlton senior turtle minder Matt Harvey. The shell is now more rounded than squashed, but carries the scars.
Mr Harvey said plastic and other rubbish was the biggest danger to turtles and the common factor in those needing treatment at Kelly Tarlton's; most were sick from "gut compaction" caused by eating plastic.
Mr Harvey, other aquarium staff and passengers on the Dive Tutukaka! excursion vessel Perfect Day cheered as the three now healthy marine reptiles were reintroduced to the open sea.
Shorty swam slowly around on the surface for at least an hour, much to the entertainment of dozens of snorkellers and swimmers.
On the other hand, fellow hawksbill Mako dipped, dived and dashed as soon as it hit the water, and the green turtle did the same.
Fifteen minutes later, though, Jim - or was it Mako? - was spotted by snorkellers "happily munching on kelp" only about 20 metres away.
Mr Harvey told the passengers - most of whom had no idea before they boarded the boat that they would witness the return to the wild of three rare marine visitors to New Zealand - turtles were always sick when found on the coast. Of those taken to the aquarium, about 60 per cent died within days.
"That's because they are on death's door by the time they come ashore," Mr Harvey said. "If they survive 24 to 48 hours in the aquarium, we generally know they're going to pull through."
The three turtles released yesterday were tagged.
Also yesterday, another hawksbill turtle, fitted with a satellite transmitter, was released off the Bay of Islands' Cape Brett. The device will provide valuable information about where it travels and how often it surfaces, among other things.