Vancouver, B.C. – From the cold January day he was rescued on a remote beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Comber the sea turtle was destined for a long journey home. The endangered, sub-tropical species is not commonly found in B.C. waters, so before he could be released, permits and travel plans had to be in place.
Now rehabilitated from “cold stunning,” or hypothermia, Comber will begin that trip this week, as the team at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre prepare him for his journey to San Diego, where he will join other rescued sea turtles as they wait for the right time to be released into warmer summer waters.
“Canada is outside the normal range for sea turtles; they’re cold-blooded and depend on their external environment to control their body temperature,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. “There is nowhere in Canada with water warm enough for his survival, so we’ve been working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, several U.S. aquariums, and the U.S. Coast Guard to get him back home.”
When he was admitted on Jan. 23 with a body temperature of 11.2 degrees Celsius, it was difficult to tell whether Comber was alive. “His condition was so poor that breaths were few and far between; we needed an ultrasound to keep track of his heartbeats,” said Haulena. The turtle responded quickly to treatment, which included antibiotics, gastrointestinal protectants and a slow increase in ambient temperature. Within a week, his temperature and vital signs improved and he’s had a steady recovery since then. The 35-kilogram turtle is estimated at between 12 and 20 years old, based on his size.
Today, Comber will undergo his last exam in preparation for his trip to the border tomorrow, where he’ll be picked up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After an overnight at the Seattle Aquarium, Comber and Tucker, an olive ridley sea turtle rescued off the Washington Coast, 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.
“From day one, our goal has been to get the turtle healthy enough for release back into the wild,” said Dr. Haulena. “When sea turtles are rescued in California after stranding, which is far more common, only 30 per cent make it to release. 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.”
Though Comber will be the first sea turtle to be rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and released, he is not the first that the team has rehabilitated. In 2005, green sea turtle Schoona was found cold-stunned in the waters off Prince George, B.C. After rehabilitation she was deemed non-releasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and she now resides in the Tropical Waters gallery at the Vancouver Aquarium. The firsthand insight gained caring for Schoona over the last 11 years provided veterinary staff at Vancouver Aquarium with invaluable knowledge about treating this non-native species, which they could then apply to Comber’s treatment.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, 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/mmr
- Photos and b-roll of the sea turtle are available on request.
Veterinary fellow Dr. Karisa Tang will be accompanying Comber on his trip to San Diego. She is also available for interviews.