Led by "Captain Hook," a hardened veteran of the high seas, 1,100 endangered sea turtles raised in captivity splashed into the Gulf of Mexico in a population-boosting experiment.

The Kemp's Ridley turtles hit the water eight to 15 miles off Port Aransas, Texas, this week, and marine biologists hope the reptiles will return to multiply on the beaches of Texas after being decimated by exploitation and pollution earlier this century."It's quite a day - raising the little guys from eggs and getting to see them shipped off," said project spokeswoman Donna Shaver.

First in the water was "Captain Hook," a turtle caught by a fisherman whose 3-inch-long hook and steel cable had been imbedded in its throat. The cable was later surgically removed.

Some 13,500 turtles have been freed by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Galveston in the past 10 years. But as far as scientists can tell, none has yet returned to nest on western Gulf of Mexico beaches - the only place in the world where the Kemp's Ridleys are known to nest. The turtles are expected to return 8 to 15 years after hatching.

Apart from Captain Hook, members of this latest graduating class of turtles spent most of their lives in small circular tubs, one turtle to a container, in climate-controlled greenhouses in Galveston.

The turtles were hatched from eggs gathered by project workers, Their growth was supervised since they were 3 to 5 days old and about the size of silver dollars weighing less than 8 ounces.

The year-old turtles now weigh about 21/2 pounds each. And for the first time this year, 98 2-year-old turtles weighing about 25 pounds each were released in hopes that more mature animals will stand a better chance of surviving.