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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Caring for Koa: Partners Work to Return a Pacific Green Sea Turtle to the Wild

Region 1, August 31, 2012
The U.S. Navy carefully loads the box with Koa into the jet for transport from Eugene, OR to Sea World in San Diego, CA for continued care.
The U.S. Navy carefully loads the box with Koa into the jet for transport from Eugene, OR to Sea World in San Diego, CA for continued care. - Photo Credit: n/a
Various media outlets were on hand at the airport in Eugene, OR to cover Koa's departure.
Various media outlets were on hand at the airport in Eugene, OR to cover Koa's departure. - Photo Credit: n/a
Nadine Fuller, a conscientious beach watcher, found Koa stranded on the beach June 18 and notified the proper agencies so he could be restored to health.
Nadine Fuller, a conscientious beach watcher, found Koa stranded on the beach June 18 and notified the proper agencies so he could be restored to health. - Photo Credit: n/a
Koa peeks out of his box during a check-up at the Eugene, OR airport.
Koa peeks out of his box during a check-up at the Eugene, OR airport. - Photo Credit: n/a
The team responsible for caring for and transporting Koa included USFWS and Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, as well as members of the U.S. Navy.
The team responsible for caring for and transporting Koa included USFWS and Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, as well as members of the U.S. Navy. - Photo Credit: n/a

On August 21, 2012, Oregon Coast Aquarium and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff delivered a threatened Pacific green sea turtle to SeaWorld San Diego staff, who accompanied the turtle from Eugene, Oregon, to San Diego, California, on a U.S. Navy airplane. The Navy’s Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC 30) used the event as a training opportunity to transport the turtle aboard a C-2A “Greyhound” cargo aircraft. 

The mature male Pacific green sea turtle was found stranded on a beach the evening of June 18, injured and comatose, by Moolack Shores Motel guest Nadine Fuller. Franklin and Yvette Brooks, the motel managers, reported the turtle to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and Stranding Coordinator Jim Rice quickly arranged transport to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
“Franklin and I were so excited to hear our turtle was ready to return home, and Frank was particularly excited to hear the Navy would be bringing him back to San Diego,” Yvette Brooks said. “Nadine is a regular visitor to our motel and will be so thrilled to hear she made such a difference.”

This turtle, named ‘Koa’ for the Hawaiian word for fearless, was saved by conscientious members of the public who informed Rice and Aquarium staff of its stranding. One individual literally carried the large turtle on his back to a waiting vehicle to get the animal the care it needed.

The turtle quickly improved under the round-the-clock care of veterinarians and caretakers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Weighing in at 133 pounds when found, he gained 28 pounds under the care of Aquarium staff. Before the transfer, he was eating and swimming well and he is now in San Diego, where SeaWorld will return him to the ocean as soon as they have confirmed his suitability for release.

“If not for Nadine, those who called the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the dedicated Oregon Coast Aquarium staff, and now, the Navy and SeaWorld, this turtle would have met his demise on that beach,” said Laura Todd, Supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Newport, Oregon, office. “It shows how the efforts of just one person and the combined response of a dedicated team can make the difference in saving imperiled species.”

This is the third hypothermic sea turtle to strand on Oregon’s beaches in two years, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for stranded sea turtles, has been working with the Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network and others to improve response and care for these listed species when they are sick or injured. The last pair of turtles left Oregon in 2010 and has since been returned to the Pacific Ocean, where they continue to be tracked with GPS equipment.

“The Aquarium’s role in the sea turtle’s rehabilitation has been triage, urgent care and stabilization with the end goal of transportation to a facility closer to the animal’s range, where it can eventually be released back into the wild,” said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “The Oregon Coast Aquarium rehabilitates wildlife to mitigate human impact and help with the stabilization of threatened and endangered populations when called upon. If we can utilize our resources and expertise to help our various partners reach their goals we will do so.”

Koa is now doing well at SeaWorld in San Diego, where he will remain until he is healthy enough for release to the wild, probably next summer.

Contact Info: Amanda Fortin, (503) 872-2852, Amanda_Fortin@fws.gov