It's kinda like Christmas morning...for turtles and humans alike.

"Like seeing your kids go off to college," says Dr. Jenny Pramuk, Woodland Park Zoo Curator.

About 40 western pond turtles were released into the wild this morning at a pond in Lakewood. They are part of Woodland Park Zoo's recovery efforts over the last 27 years.

Because of habitat destruction and invasive bullfrogs, there were only about 150 of the species left in 1990. But because of Washington's longest-running reintroduction, the number is more than a thousand now.

"You've invested so much into them...11, 12 months of your labor...the keepers' blood, sweat and tears. And when you see them off, it's just a good feeling to see them swim off into this semi-wild environment," Dr. Pramuk says.

They are still endangered and they face a new foe: an unidentified shell disease.

"We're throwing everything we have at it. We have researchers using CT scans and modern DNA technology to try to understand what the disease is," Dr. Pramuk says.

But today was about freedom as the yearlings swam off into their new home.

Evening is your guide to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Watch it weeknights at 7:30 on KING-TV Ch. 5 or streaming live on KING5.com. Connect with Evening via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Email.