Back in January, a discovery was made on a remote British Columbia beach. A male green sea turtle had washed ashore in Pacific Rim National Park, found on the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. The turtle wasn't moving. Its body temperature was only 11.2°C (52.2°F). That's so cold that it is considered hypothermic—the marine reptile did not even appear to be alive. But yesterday, after months of rehabilitation (or healing), this turtle, nicknamed Comber, was released back into its natural habitat. It's the first time a rehabilitated sea turtle has been successfully released into the wild.
Tropical species was in the wrong place
A big reason why Comber was so dangerously cold when he was found is because the waters around Pacific Rim National Park are very cold themselves. And while plenty of species can survive in those waters just fine, green sea turtles cannot. The green sea turtle is a cold-blooded tropical ocean animal. It uses outside temperatures to keep its own body temperature healthy. It must live in waters that stay warm all year round. Scientists think that Comber wandered from his traditional habitat—once he got into colder northern waters, he started to lose strength. This made it more difficult for him to swim back home.
Bringing Comber back to full health wasn't a simple matter of wrapping him in a warm blanket and feeding him some hot cocoa by the fireplace (though that would be adorable). Veterinarians at the Vancouver Aquarium had to warm him up slowly by only a few degrees a day. Warming him too quickly could have shocked his body and killed him. He was also given antibiotics (medicine) and plenty of fluids. In a lot of ways, Comber was so sick and weak that it was a little like bringing him back to life.
A trip to San Diego
After three months of rehabilitation, Comber was strong enough to be taken south to SeaWorld at San Diego. He was flown there in late April, though he still had to wait several more months for the ocean to warm up enough for it to be safe for the reptile to hit the open waves. Yesterday, that moment finally came. The 35 kilogram (77 lbs.) turtle was released by staff from both SeaWorld and the Vancouver Aquarium, who made the trip down to see their friend off for the last time.
That said, it's not exactly as though it was goodbye forever. Comber was given a radio transmitter that allows us to keep track of the newly healthy-shelled swimmer. Even you can follow his adventures! Click here to see where he is now. (As of the moment this was written, he was almost off the coast of Mexico... smart turtle!)