When Comber, a rescued green sea turtle, was found on a beach near Tofino on a cold January day, it was clear he’d already been on an epic journey. Now, he’s ready for the next leg.
After months of recovery and rehabilitation at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, Comber has been given a clean bill of health. Today, he heads for the border where he’ll be picked up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service en route to San Diego, where he’ll join other rescued sea turtles as they wait to be released into warm summer waters.
Comber will be travelling in style — and he won’t be alone. The turtle’s first stop will be an overnight stay at the Seattle Aquarium, where he’ll meet Tucker, an olive ridley sea turtle rescued off the Washington Coast. From there the pair will board a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 Hercules for a flight to California to finish their rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego. Once temperatures are warm enough in local waters, all of the turtles will be released. Of those, Comber is the only one that made it as far as Canada.
The endangered green sea turtle was certainly a surprise to beachgoers who found him washed up on the shores of Pacific Rim National Park on the west side of Vancouver Island several months ago. Far outside of his natural range in the waters off of Mexico or Hawaii, it is thought Comber followed unusually warm El Nino currents northward. By the time he was rescued in a joint effort between Parks Canada rangers and members of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre team, the turtle was “cold-stunned” or hypothermic, with a barely detectible heartbeat. “His condition was so poor that breaths were few and far between,” recalls Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. “We needed an ultrasound to keep track of his heartbeats.”
After painstakingly raising his body temperature, just a few degrees at a time, Comber showed promise of a full recovery. The next step was getting him closer to home. “There is nowhere in Canada with water warm enough for his survival,” says Haulena. So Vancouver Aquarium staff began the complex processes of securing permits for his travel to the U.S., which included liaising with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several U.S. aquariums, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
With permits finally in place, Comber is on his way to completing his journey, which also marks a victory for Aquarium staff. “From day one, our goal has been to get the turtle healthy enough for release back into the wild,” says Dr. Haulena, who admits it’ll be an emotional send-off. Comber has managed to steal many hearts over the last few months as Aquarium staff and volunteers have had the rare opportunity to interact with and observe a species they don’t normally see. But knowing Comber will ultimately head back to the wild is the perfect ending for his incredible story.
“Comber beat the odds and will soon return to his native waters, where he can contribute to the growth of the endangered sea turtle population,” Haulena says.
Sick and injured animals like Comber are cared for by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping. Rescue Centre staff attend to more than 100 sick, injured and stranded marine animals each year and rehabilitate them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/mmr