Aug 24

Partners Come Together to Return Sea Turtle to the Wild

by Staff

A threatened Pacific green sea turtle has a second chance at life thanks to the efforts of members of the public, staff at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and SeaWorld San Diego—and even the U.S. Navy.

The mature male Pacific green sea turtle, named Koa, was found stranded on a beach the evening of June 18, 2012 injured and comatose, by Moolack Shores Motel guest Nadine Fuller. Franklin and Yvette Brooks, the motel managers, reported the turtle to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and Stranding Coordinator Jim Rice quickly arranged transport to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

This turtle was saved by conscientious members of the public who informed Rice and Aquarium staff of its stranding. One individual literally carried Koa on his back to a waiting vehicle to get the animal the care it needed.

Koa quickly improved under the round-the-clock care of veterinarians and caretakers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Weighing in at 133 pounds when found, he gained a healthy 28 pounds under the care of aquarium staff.

“The aquarium’s role in the sea turtle’s rehabilitation has been triage, urgent care and stabilization with the end goal of transportation to a facility closer to the animal’s range, where it can eventually be released back into the wild,” said Jim Burke, director of animal husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “The Oregon Coast Aquarium rehabilitates wildlife to mitigate human impact and help with the stabilization of threatened and endangered populations when called upon. If we can utilize our resources and expertise to help our various partners reach their goals we will do so.”

On August 21, Oregon Coast Aquarium and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff delivered the Koa to SeaWorld San Diego staff, who accompanied him on a three-hour flight from Eugene, Oregon, to San Diego, California, aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft. Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30), based at a naval air station in San Diego, used the event as a training opportunity to transport the turtle aboard one of its C-2A “Greyhound” cargo aircraft.

The flight was nicknamed “Operation Turtle Lift” by the SeaWorld and the Navy.

“The Navy is always happy to lend a hand and it was a huge privilege for VRC-30 to help transport this turtle to SeaWorld,” said Cmdr. Joel Becker, the squadron’s commanding officer who also piloted the flight. “We really look forward to when Koa is back swimming in the ocean as that will be the true happy ending.”

“Franklin and I were so excited to hear our turtle was ready to return home, and Frank was particularly excited to hear the Navy would be bringing him back to San Diego,” Yvette Brooks said. “Nadine is a regular visitor to our motel and will be so thrilled to hear she made such a difference.”

Upon arrival at SeaWorld, Koa received a complete medical examination, including x-rays, by the park’s veterinarians and aquarium staff. The turtle will complete his rehabilitation in San Diego, and it is hoped that he will be returned to the ocean next summer once his health is completely restored and the ocean has warmed to the proper temperature.

“Koa is in very good condition, and is active and strong,” said Hendrik Nollens, SeaWorld’s staff veterinarian. “If he continues progress well in his rehabilitation process, he is an excellent candidate to be returned to the ocean. With any rescued animal, we want to ensure they have the best chance for success and survival once they are back at sea.”

“If not for Nadine, those who called the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the dedicated Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, and now, the Navy and SeaWorld, this turtle would have met his demise on that beach,” said Laura Todd, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Newport, Oregon, office. “It shows how the efforts of just one person and the combined response of a dedicated team can make the difference in saving imperiled species.”

This is the third hypothermic sea turtle to strand on Oregon’s beaches in two years, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for stranded sea turtles, has been working with the Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and others to improve response and care for these listed species when they are sick or injured. The last pair of turtles, which left Oregon in 2010, were also transported to SeaWorld San Diego for long-term rehabilitative care. Both have since been returned to the Pacific Ocean where research scientists spent several months tracking their movements at sea through satellite transmitters attached to their shells.