Eight months of rehabilitation culminates in sea turtle’s release near Long Beach

Winter 2013

Last January, an emaciated olive ridley turtle washed up in the surf at Venice Beach. The distressed turtle suffered from hypothermia, starvation, and an inability to float, all signs it had been exposed to cold water over a long period of time. The stranded sea turtle was soon transported to the Aquarium of the Pacific, in Long Beach, California, to undergo a rehabilitation program that culminated in the turtle’s recovery and release this fall.

After nearly eight months of rehabilitation, the olive ridley turtle was placed on a Long Beach Harbor Patrol boat and transported offshore. Once out of shipping lanes, the patrol boat stopped, the turtle was lifted from its crate and gently placed on the boat’s transom, and from there it gently slipped into the water and slowly swam away. But the story doesn’t end here.

The turtle was equipped with a GPS antenna. Attached to its shell, the antenna allows researchers from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific, as well as the public, to track the released animal’s movements. In particular, scientists wanted to know whether the turtle would migrate south toward Mexico and warmer waters or remain in California’s coastal waters, where it was initially found. The transmitter tracked the turtle’s movements through October 16, at which point it either ran out of battery life or fell off the turtle. During that timeframe, however, the turtle swam over 700 miles. The furthest distance it traveled from the release point was 470 miles. Nearly six weeks worth of data indicate the turtle did in fact migrate to warmer waters near Baja California. This information augments existing satellite telemetry tagging studies, allowing scientists to better understand the olive ridleys’ migration between feeding and breeding grounds, which often occurs over great distances.  

Olive ridley turtles are likely the most abundant sea turtle in the world, with an estimated 800,000 females nesting annually around the globe.  However, the turtle discovered on Venice Beach was from a population in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as in danger of becoming extinct. The endangered status of the population makes the rehabilitation of this stranded animal that much more important.

The turtles are named for the olive color of their shell, or carapace. Adult olive ridley turtles typically weigh about 100 pounds, grow to over 30 inches in length, and reach reproductive maturity at about 15 years of age.

To track the movements of the olive ridley sea turtle through October 16, log on to the Aquarium of the Pacific’s website at: http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/news/story/aquarium_releases_rehabilitated_sea_turtle

To learn more about olive Ridley sea turtles please visit:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/oliveridley.htm

Photos of the olive ridley sea turtle release courtesy the Aquarium of the Pacific.