For the second time in one week, the Vancouver Aquarium was called in to help rescue a stranded sea turtle. Both of the stranded animals were found washed up on the beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The most recent, a green sea turtle, was rescued off Combers Beach on November 30, 2011. With the help of Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the turtle was brought to the Vancouver Aquarium hospital where staff veterinarian, Dr. Martin Haulena, and his team are providing treatment to the young male turtle. Just the week before on November 22, 2011, an olive ridley sea turtle was found washed up along Wickaninnish Beach and was declared dead the next day.
“It is very unusual to see sea turtles in our Canadian waters at this time of year,” explains Dr. Dennis Thoney, director of animal operations at the Vancouver Aquarium. “Sea turtle strandings tend to be more common in B.C. during El Nino years when waters are warmer than during a La Nina year when the waters are cool. Therefore, it is not clear how these animals ended up in B.C.”
The more recent of the two turtle was discovered stranded on the beach by a park visitor. The visitor alerted park staff who examined the turtle and immediately met with members of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Marine Mammal Response Network. The Network staff picked up the turtle for a transfer to the Aquarium on November 30.
Once the animal was admitted to the Aquarium’s hospital, Dr. Haulena’s team provided emergency treatment, including fluids and antibiotics, and assessed the eye injuries to the turtle. An electrocardiogram and ultrasound were performed to look for a heartbeat. In cold-stunned sea turtle cases the metabolic rate may be so depressed that a heart beat becomes extremely difficult to detect in a live animal. Complicating this further is the fact that reptiles already have a very interesting cardiovascular system where heart activity alone cannot be relied upon as confirmation of life.
“There was very little heart activity when the turtle arrived at the Aquarium yesterday but, because cold-stunned sea turtles can have a very faint heart beat, it is too early to pronounce a clear diagnosis,” says Dr. Haulena. “This morning, there were a few rare but very distinct electrical patterns suggestive of a heart beat and the eyes appear to have rehydrated. The next 24 hours will be critical.” At this moment, the prognosis remains very poor. “The goal is to very slowly increase the turtle’s body temperature by about one to two degrees per day and look for any indication that recovery may be possible,” adds Dr. Haulena. “We will repeat the fluids, monitor electrical activity in the heart, and hope for the best.”
The olive ridley and green sea turtles are both threatened species. Any sightings of live, free swimming sea turtle and cetaceans should be reported to the Vancouver Aquarium’s BC Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-866-ISAWONE.