Hypothermic turtle rescued from British Columbia waters in first sighting since 2015

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When British Columbia marine scientist Anna Hall encountered a very lost loggerhead sea turtle in the waters near Victoria over the weekend, she knew its fate was bleak at sea.

“The turtle would not have survived,” said Hall, senior scientist at the Sea View Marine Sciences consulting group.

“If the turtle had stayed in the ocean, it would either have died of hypothermia or it would have been hit by a boat. It was moving so slowly.”

Hall was the first marine biologist to respond Sunday after a resident near Pedder Bay, between Victoria and Sooke, discovered the reptile drifting while checking crab traps.

A turtle pulled in a small cart.
A turtle rarely seen in British Columbia waters has been rescued after drifting near the southern tip of Vancouver Island. (Submitted by Anna Hall)

The 38-kilogram female turtle was then taken to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Society, where officials said her core temperature was only 8.4C, well below the usual level of 20 to 25 °C.

“The water temperature where the turtle was found was 10C,” Hall said. “So the turtle was actually colder than the water temperature.”

Loggerhead turtles are typically seen in subtropical and temperate seas, and the rescued turtle is only the second ever seen in British Columbia waters.

He is currently recovering and is in the care of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Society.

A pair of human hands reach out to a turtle in sea water.
The loggerhead sea turtle generally thrives in warmer climates. Scientists hypothesize that the one near Vancouver Island was likely caught in a warm ocean current that cooled near the coast of British Columbia. (Submitted by Anna Hall)

The company’s chief executive, Martin Haulena, said it was likely the turtle – nicknamed Moira by staff and aged between 15 and 20 – was caught in a warm ocean current which gradually cooled near the coast of British Columbia.

“It is currently reaching around 15°C,” Haulena said, adding that the turtle’s condition was stable. “She’s certainly more responsive than a few days ago, but she still can’t swim.”

A turtle rests on a plastic sheet on a tiled floor.
The turtle was nicknamed Moira. (Document from the Vancouver Aquarium/The Canadian Press)

The company said the turtle is receiving fluid therapy and antibiotics to treat it as its temperature slowly rises, and Haulena said it will take a few more days of slow warming before the animal can try to swim again .

He said the company would likely keep Moira for evaluation for another six to eight weeks before transferring the animal to Seaworld San Diego’s preparation facility ahead of a return to the wild in August or September, when the ocean is at its most hot.

Hall said the last time a loggerhead sea turtle was seen in British Columbia waters was in 2015, about 50 nautical miles (about 93 kilometers) west of Tofino.

This is the second time in recent months that a lost sea turtle has been rescued from Canada’s cold waters.

In November, an endangered green turtle was found on a Nova Scotia beachrelaunched and shipped to the warmer waters of Bermuda.

WATCH | Endangered sea turtle found in Nova Scotia:

Scotti, an endangered sea turtle found in Nova Scotia, returns to Bermuda

She was discovered in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia, and spent a week in the care of local veterinarians. She is now back in Bermuda where she will eventually be released. Watch Amy Smith’s interview with Kathleen Martin of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network about how unusual it is for this type of turtle to survive in our cold waters.

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