Rehabilitating Wild Sea Turtles cover

Rehabilitating Wild Sea Turtles

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Here are a few stories of sea turtles rehabilitated at the Aquarium in recent years.


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Rehabilitating Wild Sea Turtles

Helping Sea Turtles

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, is officially permitted to help stranded sea turtles.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) occasionally brings stranded or injured turtles to the Aquarium for medical treatment, satellite tagging, and assessment before these animals can be released back into the ocean. After they are released, NOAA and other organizations that track sea turtles published the maps of the GPS locations sent back by satellite.

Inspiring Stories

Image by Hugh Ryono

Inspiring Stories

Here are a few stories of sea turtles rehabilitated at the Aquarium in recent years.

Rescued and Released

A juvenile loggerhead sea turtle that came to the Aquarium in September 2015 with an injury was rehabilitated by the veterinary staff and released back into the ocean in November 2015.

The sea turtle was named Char Char after a Pokemon character. Because of the turtle’s size, experts estimate it to be around two or three years old.

Full Recovery

NMFS officials asked if the Aquarium would provide housing and care for the injured sea turtle.

Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Lance Adams placed it in a behind-the-scenes holding tank. While the turtle appeared to be in good health, it had a dislocated right front flipper, apparently due to some previous injury.

Dr. Adams determined that the flipper would never function and in fact impeded its ability to swim properly. He made the decision to amputate the flipper at the elbow joint. The turtle made a full recovery from the surgery and NMFS biologists determined an appropriate release date and location.

Following the Journey

Char Char was equipped with a SPOT-5 satellite transmitter affixed to the shell via the ‘Seney and Mansfield’ technique, which used flexible neoprene as a middle layer to allow for rapid shell growth as expected in small juvenile turtles.

Char Char was released on the east side of Catalina Island on November 15. In just a couple days, Char Char had traveled about 30 miles south to San Clemente Island. A map recording Char Char’s movements is available on seaturtle.org, a website providing satellite tag data from sea turtles and other animals around the world.

Char Char's Satellite Transmitter

Char Char's Satellite Transmitter

Image by Adrian Samora

Increased Numbers

Jeffrey Seminoff, who leads the NMFS Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program, applied the tag and reports unprecedented numbers of loggerheads in Southern California waters in recent years.

He attributes their abundance to warm water temperatures off the coast. In 2011 his team counted zero loggerheads during aerial surveys conducted by NMFS.

In the last year, they have counted over 300, which means there could be tens of thousands of loggerheads in ocean waters off the coast between Santa Barbara and Mexico.

Answering Questions

Char Char is only the third loggerhead to be fitted with a satellite tag in Southern California.

The other two, Coco and Matteo (released in April and July, respectively), can also be tracked on seaturtle.org. Seminoff expects the satellite tag to stay affixed to Char Char’s shell for up to a month or more. The data collected by the tag will help him and other researchers determine how long loggerhead sea turtles typically stay in the Southern California area, whether they swim with or against ocean currents, whether they stay inside or outside of the Channel Islands, and other questions.

Typically, loggerheads live in the central North Pacific around the Hawaiian Islands and their only nesting grounds are located in Japan.

A Different Stroke

Will Char Char still have a long and healthy life and good mobility while missing a front flipper?

Seminoff reports that it is common for sea turtles, particularly around Australia where they are more prone to attacks from sharks, to survive and thrive with just one front flipper. While their swim stroke is slightly different, their migratory paths are indistinguishable from those of turtles with two front flippers.

Char Char Returns to the Sea

Char Char Returns to the Sea

Image by Adrian Samora

Another Story

After being rehabilitated by the Aquarium for several months, an olive Ridley sea turtle was released back into the open ocean by husbandry staff members on September 5, 2013.

The Aquarium was selected by NMFS to provide veterinary care and housing for the rescued animal. The Port of Long Beach and Harbor Breeze Cruises assisted with the release.

Marine Animal Rescue found the sea turtle stranded on Venice Beach in January. It was severely underweight, hypothermic, and had buoyancy problems when it was rescued. Olive Ridley sea turtles are listed as endangered.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Image by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY 2.0)

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

The olive ridley sea turtle, also known as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is a medium-sized species of sea turtle found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Follow the Story

The turtle was fitted with a satellite tag, so its movements could be tracked.

Periodic updates showed the turtle to have traveled south along the coast to Baja California, Mexico. Aquarium staff members stopped receiving data from the sea turtle’s transmitter as of October 16, 2013. Either the transmitter ran out of battery life or fell off the turtle. In the future, if the turtle is observed nesting on a monitored beach or found deceased, she can be identified by her flipper tags or passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag.

Aquarium of the Pacific