By all accounts, Tucker the sea turtle has made an amazing recovery. After stranding on Cannon Beach in Oregon last December, this cold-stunned olive ridley sea turtle was transported to the Seattle Aquarium—Washington State’s only sea turtle rehabilitation facility.
Sea turtle strandings on Pacific Northwest beaches, once relatively rare, have been occurring more regularly. Sea turtles don’t travel this far north unless they’re injured or sick, and once stranded, they require immediate care to survive. This winter, a record 10 sea turtles washed ashore on beaches in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and only three have lived. If ocean conditions and weather patterns continue as they have the last couple of years, more turtles are expected to arrive in the future.
Tucker’s primary issues upon arrival at the Seattle Aquarium were severe hypothermia and pneumonia. His core body temperature was in the 40s, when it should be close to 80°F, and he was unable to breathe on his own due to the pneumonia. He was in dire condition—unresponsive and nearly dead. In fact, the name “Tucker” came from the first sign of life he showed: tucking his tail under his body.
Seattle Aquarium staff worked to warm him, and his organs slowly began functioning again. His caretakers provided ventilation by hand for nearly a week until Tucker could breathe by himself. As he recovered, he regained his appetite and began to feed successfully. He’s gained seven pounds since December.
Tucker still had another hurdle to overcome: increased buoyancy, resulting from air trapped in his body, which causes difficulty with diving. On March 30, he became the first sea turtle to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Virginia Mason to remove gas bubbles from his body. CT scans taken afterward showed improvement, and the treatment was deemed a success.
Now Tucker is ready to take the next step in his recovery—or, in this case, the next flight. On April 21, Tucker, along with a rescued Pacific green sea turtle named Comber, who was receiving treatment at the Vancouver Aquarium, will be transported by the US Coast Guard to specialists at SeaWorld San Diego. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) coordinated with the Coast Guard to schedule the turtle transport to coincide with their regular pilot training; the Coast Guard is using this opportunity to train for other emergency situations that could involve passengers requiring critical care during the flight.
Tucker and Comber’s treatment and recovery will continue at SeaWorld, under permit by the USFWS, with an expected release date to the Pacific Ocean in July or August. The release date will occur when the ocean has warmed enough to ensure the best chance of a successful survival and return to the wild.
Watch for our next post, with FAQs about Tucker and Comber. In the meantime, you can learn more about Comber by checking out this post from the Vancouver Aquarium.