SEATTLE (AP) — Two sea turtles that landed cold, sickly and malnourished on shores far beyond their normal living range have been flown aboard a U.S. Coast Guard plane from Seattle to San Diego to finish rehabilitation.
The olive ridley and the Pacific green turtles that left Seattle on Thursday were part of a record-setting spike of sea turtle strandings on Pacific Northwest beaches this past winter. Ten turtles were found on shores in Oregon, Washington and northern California. Only three survived, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Among the survivors hitching a ride was Tucker, a male olive ridley turtle between 15 to 20 years of age, found on the Oregon coast.
"They shouldn't be up here but it's more and more frequent that it is happening. Changes in climate could be part of that. We don't really know the exact cause of why this is becoming more and more frequent but it's becoming a problem," said Lesanna Lahner, Seattle Aquarium veterinarian.
The Pacific green turtle came ashore even further north, landing on Canada's Vancouver Island. Nicknamed Comber, this sea turtle is believed to be the first turtle to be successfully rehabilitated in Canada. Comber spent three months at the Vancouver Aquarium. Tucker spent a similar amount of time in Seattle.
Both turtles had 40-degree body temperatures when they were rescued. Tucker got severe pneumonia and had to be treated in a hyperbaric chamber because he developed air in his tissue and has a buoyancy problem
The turtles will finish their rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego. The plan is to release them in the summer. Their normal living range usually tops out around mid-California.
"We like to release them into the most optimal environments. So we like to release them when the waters are the warmest and there is the most amount of food," Lahner said.
The flight from Seattle was a joint operation among U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Seattle Aquarium, Vancouver Aquarium and the U.S. Coast Guard, which provides low altitude flying and a warm cabin for the turtles, said Laura Todd, a supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We've hauled seals, fur seals, monk seals, we've hauled birds," said Ron Clark a former flotilla commander now volunteering at the US Coast Guard.