A green sea turtle is warming up — very slowly — at the Vancouver Marine Science Centre after being found far from its home range in the warm waters off Hawaii or Mexico.
The sea turtle was found on Jan. 23 on Combers Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino on Vancouver Island. The rescue was a collaborative effort by Parks Canada officers and a team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
It’s likely the tropical creature, whose sex has yet to be determined, followed a warm current northward and became distressed when its body temperature began to drop in B.C.’s colder waters.
“Reptiles are cold-blooded and they completely depend on their external environment to control their body temperature,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, the Vancouver Aquarium’s head veterinarian. “When they get into water that’s too cold they get hypothermia, also known as cold-stunning. Everything slows down: heart, respiration rates, they can’t swim, they can’t forage — they get weaker and weaker.”
It’s possible this year’s El Niño weather pattern played a role in the turtle’s misguided migration, added Haulena, noting the turtle was discovered just days after Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue staff responded to a Guadalupe fur seal, another southern species, stranded on the same beach.
The unusual migrations are “something we see more often during years with above-average sea temperatures, such as during an El Niño period,” Haulena said. He added it is possible Rescue Centre staff could respond to more out-of-range species along the B.C. coast before the winter is out.
Admitted with a body temperature of 11.2 degrees Celsius, the 35 kilogram turtle’s body temperature must be carefully monitored and slowly raised. It had climbed over 17.1
degrees as of Tuesday. Once it reaches a normal range, about 20-25 degrees, Aquarium staff will take it for a test swim to see how it responds in the water. The turtle has also received antibiotics, fluids, and care for several wounds on its carapace.
Haulena said he was “guarded” about making a prognosis for the turtle at this time, but was hopeful the animal would be a candidate for eventual release into the wild, which would be arranged in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The green sea turtle is designated as Endangered worldwide by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List. They are not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act because Canada is outside their range.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. Rescue Centre staff attend to stranded marine animals and rehabilitate them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/mmr