Much the way sea turtles move slowly in the water, so goes their rehabilitation process. It can take months or even years for a turtle to fully recover from the type of challenges they face after being rescued cold stunned, comatose and suffering from buoyancy issues. Over the last few years, a combination of El Niño storms and a large mass of relatively warm water known as “the blob” all conspired to shift ocean marine life, turtles in particular, off course and into chilly waters that left them stranded on beaches in the Pacific Northwest.
But three particular sea turtles—olive ridleys named Solstice, Tucker and Lightning—were the lucky ones. With expert help from the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Seattle Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and SeaWorld San Diego, these three turtles overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. They recovered from their buoyancy troubles and were deemed healthy enough to be returned to their ocean home for a second chance at life. Olive ridley sea turtles are listed on the federal endangered species list as threatened.
The road to recovery for Solstice, Tucker and Lightning was lengthy, challenging and at times hopeless. But SeaWorld’s Rescue Team, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made history with a groundbreaking rehabilitation protocol that involved placing the turtles in a deep saltwater pool (12 feet and 115,000 gallons).
Slowly but surely the turtles began to dive, forage and maintain proper buoyancy. After being determined by SeaWorld’s veterinarians and aquarists to be in good condition, of proper weight, navigating through a water column and eating a variety of food types, the turtles were returned to their ocean home approximately 15 miles off the coast of San Diego. SeaWorld’s extensive pool facilities were key to the successful rehabilitation of this threatened species.
Prior to their return, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute senior research scientist Dr. Brent Stewart outfitted the turtles with satellite transmitters to monitor their movements. NOAA is a critical cooperator on the satellite tagging and tracking of the turtles.
Here’s a look at our three lucky turtles:
Meet Solstice: Solstice is a female olive ridley turtle. She was rescued and cared for initially by the Oregon Coast Aquarium in December 2014 and flown to SeaWorld by the Coast Guard in February 2015. She got her name because she was rescued on winter solstice.
Meet Lightning: Rescued and cared for initially by the Oregon Coast Aquarium in December 2015, Lightning is a female olive ridley turtle. Upon stranding, she was suffering from hypothermia, buoyancy issues and unknown injuries to both eyes. Lightning was flown to SeaWorld San Diego by the U.S. Coast Guard in March 2016. Lightning was named as such because she was found comatose after two big winter storms on the Oregon coast.
Meet Tucker: Rescued by the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon in December 2015, Tucker is a male olive ridley turtle. He was found comatose near Cannon Beach in Oregon and was transferred to the Seattle Aquarium for his initial care. He was flown to SeaWorld San Diego by the U.S. Coast Guard in April 2016. When Tucker was being cared for in Seattle, it was unclear whether he was male or female because every time caretakers approached, he would tuck his tail under his shell (male sea turtles can be distinguished from females by their much larger tails).
About the species: Olive ridley turtles are the smallest sea turtle in the Pacific, at 22 to 31 inches when fully grown and a maximum weight of about 100 pounds. On the endangered species list, their status is threatened. They are found throughout the Pacific Ocean, although they mostly occur in the tropical and subtropical areas. They generally venture no further north than Southern California on the eastern Pacific coast, but they do occur in temperate regions including the relatively cold waters of Oregon and Washington coasts.
About Oregon Coast Aquarium
The Oregon Coast Aquarium creates unique and engaging experiences that connect you to the Oregon Coast and inspire ocean conservation. An accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution, this 501(c)3 non-profit organization is ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Visit us at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR. www.aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook.com/OregonCoastAquarium, or Twitter.com/OrCoastAquarium for the latest updates.
Information and photos provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium