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 off the Oregon Coast.
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 seemingly hopeless. But SeaWorld’s Rescue Team, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made history with a groundbreaking rehabilitation procedure that involved placing the turtles in a 12 foot deep saltwater pool.
Over time, 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, attaining 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.