A little child observed a bird drop what she believed to be a Cheeto at her feet while she was playing in the sand at Indian Shores Beach in the vicinity of Tampa, Florida.
But when she tried to pick it up, she saw that it was actually a little, gasping orange seahorse. She filled her sand bucket with water and instantly placed the seahorse inside.
She showed her mom, and together they called the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). A rescue team volunteer rushed out to pick up the tiny creature. Cheeto was placed into a quarantine habitat where staff from the aquatics department could evaluate the seahorse.
They came to the conclusion that Cheeto was a female lined seahorse, most likely feeding on the small shrimp that live on reefs and seagrass beds. She was probably residing amid red and orange sponges before the currents moved her in the direction of the beach since seahorses sometimes alter their color to blend in with their environment for natural camouflage. The hungry seagull dove down there and snatched her up in his beak.
Due of their bony build, seahorses are frequently spat up by seagulls immediately after being picked up. Don Stansell, a marine biologist at CMA, claims that the seahorses have little chance of surviving if it occurs over land.
A week after her arrival, Cheeto began to nibble on seagrass. Bill Potts, chief marketing officer at CMA, said everyone cheered the first time she ate. She also turned a bright yellow to match her surroundings.
The aquarium set up a webcam and Cheeto’s recovery was streamed live on CMA’s Facebook page.
Stansell, like many viewers, became obsessed with the webcam. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night just to make sure she was OK,” he tells The Dodo.
Stansell said that despite her traumatic experience, Cheeto didn’t appear to have any medical issues and could be released back into the ocean. He felt there was no reason to hold her back.
On a hot, bright day, Stansell and his team took Cheeto out to sea and moored her where other seahorses inhabited acres of seagrass so they could release her. She didn’t first appear to want to go when he unlocked the little shipping container.
Stansell explains, “But once she did, she went off.” When he finally lost sight of her, he was overcome with joy that she had survived.
Potts laughs when he thinks about this incredible adventure. “If you can see what we do for one seahorse, imagine what we do for our turtles and marine life.”