“It’s amazing because all of the things happened at the exact right time and probably only in a two-minute window for Cheeto to have survived.”

By Meghan Overdeep
June 7, 2017

At first, the little girl thought a passing seagull dropped a Cheeto by her foot as she played in the sand at Indian Shores Beach near Tampa, Florida. But as she looked closer, she was shocked to find that it was actually a tiny orange seahorse, clinging to life. Thinking quickly, The Dodo reports that the girl put the animal in her sand bucket and filled it with seawater.

The girl and her mom called Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and a volunteer rescuer rushed over to pick up the sick creature. Back at the aquarium, experts concluded that Cheeto was a female lined seahorse who had likely been grazing on the tiny shrimp that hide in the seagrass and reefs before it was swept away by a current and snatched by a hungry seagull.

Although cute, boney seahorses aren’t exactly easy to eat, so seagulls usually spit them out shortly after grabbing them. “The chances of surviving being dropped by a seagull in the sand are small,” Don Stansell, a marine biologist with CMA, told The Dodo. “It’s amazing because all of the things happened at the exact right time and probably only in a two-minute window for her to have survived.”

It took a week for Cheeto to start eating, and Bill Potts, chief marketing officer at CMA, told The Dodo everyone cheered the first time they saw her nibble on same seagrass. With her prognosis looking good, the staff set up a webcam, and began streaming Cheeto’s recovery on their Facebook page. Fans were instantly hooked.

Eventually it was determined that the little seahorse was healthy enough to return to the wild. So one day, three weeks after she arrived, Stansell and staff released Cheeto back into the ocean with heavy hearts. At first, Stansell said she didn’t seem like she wanted to leave her transport case.

“But once she did, she took off,” Stansell told The Dodo. It didn’t take long before they lost sight of her.

“If you can see what we do for one seahorse, imagine what we do for our turtles and marine life,” he added.

To help more creatures like Cheeto, you can donate to Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s animal care fund here.

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