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Albany aquarium provides refuge to animal evacuees from Irma

The Flint RiverQuarium in Albany took in three animal evacuees, including Lefty the sea turtle. / Mary Green

Hurricane Irma evacuees are now headed home, but not all of them are people.

The Flint RiverQuarium in Albany took in three special evacuees this weekend and for part of the week from UGA's Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, which had to evacuate from its home on Skidaway Island, near Savannah.

“I reached out to the folks here at the Flint RiverQuarium, and they graciously opened their doors to provide some sanctuary for Lefty and two American alligators I brought with me," UGA Aquarium Curator Devin Dumont said.

Lefty is a sea turtle whose name, fortunately, did not reflect his experience last weekend.

“Through the Department of Natural Resources, we received Lefty about four days after it hatched, and it had an injured left flipper, and it was left behind in the sand, so we called it ‘Lefty,'" Dumont said.

Lefty was joined by the two alligators, Darth Gator and Luke Swampwalker. Dumont said it was especially important to get all three animals out of harm's way.

“Being protected species, we have to sort of give them priority to ensure their safety and wellbeing," he said.

They weren't the only critters the RiverQuarium helped out.

Director Richard Brown and his wife traveled down to Panacea, Florida, to rescue two six-foot nurse sharks from another, smaller aquarium.

“I took them up to Atlanta, and the Georgia Aquarium folks were kind enough to be there and help us acclimate them and transfer them to one of their large tanks where they’re swimming around happily right now," he said.

Brown said he didn't hesitate to make the 15-hour round trip — which he will do again soon, when the sharks can return back to Florida — and he knows others would do the same for him and his animals.

“We have a pretty tight-knit community between all the animal caretakers throughout the country, we’re all happy to help each other out when there’s a problem," he said.

In Albany, Dumont said his animals took well to their new environment — maybe even a bit too well.

“I think they might be spoiled after this," he said.

Before he packed up Thursday after getting word that their aquarium's power had returned on Skidaway Island, Dumont said it was hard to put his gratitude into words.

But he added that this won't be the last time Lefty and the gators see their new friends in Southwest Georgia.

“We’re looking forward to future collaborations where we can sort of promote each other’s facilities and what we do for the state of Georgia," he said.

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