A rare olive ridley sea turtle that usually inhabits tropical and subtropical waters has had a startling introduction to life in Canada.

Rescued in Port Alberni on Sept. 30, 2019, the hypothermic turtle was transported to Parksville by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to meet members of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMRC) team, who brought it to Vancouver for treatment.

The 26.9 kg. adult male sea turtle, quickly named “Berni” for Port Alberni, had a body temperature of only 11 degrees Celsius. That was dangerously low, compared to his ideal body temperature of over 20 degrees Celsius. Berni appeared to be “cold-stunned,” or hypothermic, said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian for Vancouver Aquarium. Because sea turtles are cold-blooded, they depend entirely on their environment to control their body temperature. When that environment is too cold, their heart and respiration rates slow down, leaving them unable to swim or forage, weakening them and making them vulnerable to predators.

Berni’s temperature is gradually being raised by increasing the ambient temperature of the hospital.

“Once he’s stronger and showing signs of responsiveness, staff will place him in a pool set at the same temperature as his body for short periods of time,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

Cold-stunning can result in pneumonia, so Berni is also being treated with antibiotics. Members of MMRC staff are monitoring Berni closely and administering fluids to treat dehydration. Additional diagnostic testing, including bloodwork, ultrasound and radiographs, will continue over the coming days.

“Berni has a long road to recovery but he is responding to treatment,” said Akhurst. “Once he’s stabilized, we will work closely with Canadian and U.S. authorities to get the permits that allow him to be released, in warmer waters.”

This is only the fourth olive ridley sea turtle recorded on the B.C. coast. MMRC staff members rescued, rehabilitated and released “Comber” the sea turtle in 2016.

Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Martin Haulena and MMRC staff monitor Berni’s health.

One possible reason for the appearance of a tropical or sub-tropical sea turtle in B.C. waters is what’s known as “the blob,” a warmer-than-usual area of water located in the Pacific Ocean, just off the west coast of North America.

The blob can hurt everything from the smallest organism to the largest marine mammal, said Haulena, because everything is connected, with cooler water generally meaning more oxygen. “That’s really important at a primary level, because it allows algae and other nutrients to form and metabolize up the chain, up the ecosystem.”

Another potential reason is that above-average sea temperatures often prompt unusual migrations. Sea turtles from Mexico and Central America sometimes ride warmer water currents into the cooler B.C. coastal region. Contaminants in their foraging grounds also adversely affect these turtles.

The olive ridley sea turtle is the second smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles, and is classified as vulnerable worldwide by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List.

You can support the care of sick and injured animals like Berni by donating to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre today.

Vancouver Aquarium® Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, an Ocean Wise initiative, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/donate.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.