Return to the deep
Photo essay: Against the odds, three olive ridley sea turtles return home

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Solstice (shown here) is one of three olive ridley turtles who have spent at least a year in a rehabilitation pool at SeaWorld, San Diego, that were released Monday, Sept. 11, off the San Diego coastline.

Olive ridley sea turtles, named for their pale green color, are the smallest of all sea turtles. By no choice of their own, three olive ridleys have been on extended vacation at SeaWorld, San Diego, after being rescued in 2014 from near-death.

These three turtles washed up in separate locations along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Each one lucky to be spotted, rescued and transported to Seaworld Rescue in San Diego by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Named Solstice, Lightning (both female) and Tucker (male), they then underwent a lengthy rehabilitation at SeaWorld. The road to recovery for each one was lengthy, challenging and at times seemingly hopeless.

All three turtles had been cold stunned and suffered from respiratory issues, which makes it impossible for them to dive and forage for food. But SeaWorld’s Rescue Team, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Coast Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium, made history with a new rehabilitation method.

Dr. Brent Stewart, of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, outfits Tucker with a satellite transmitter to monitor its movements at sea by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The turtles, were placed into a large 12-foot deep, 115,000-gallon saltwater rehabilitation pool that allowed them space to become familiar with normal sea turtle behavior again.

"The way these organizations all work together to save these threatened turtles is inspiring," said Laura Todd, who leads sea turtle rescue and recovery on the West Coast for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "None of us would be able to recover listed species without teamwork and tremendous support from the public. These three turtles are living examples of successful partnerships across the entire Pacific Coast."

Slowly but surely the turtles began to dive, forage and maintain proper buoyancy. Earlier this year, SeaWorld’s aquarium experts and veterinarians agreed that the sea turtles were in healthy condition, of good weight, navigating through a water column and eating a variety of food types.

On September 11, Solstice, Lightning and Tucker were brought out to sea to live out the remainder of their lives in the wild. As they were released, each sea turtle showed off its unique personality for the last time. Lightning was energetic and couldn’t get back into the ocean fast enough, Solstice was calm and composed; and Tucker paddled along the surface, saying goodbye and soaking in his new home.

Tucker, one of three olive ridley sea turtles rescued in 2014, has been in rehab at SeaWorld recovering from cold-stun and buoyancy issues. He was released back into the Pacific off the San Diego coastline on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.
Solstice gets her weight taken before getting her GPS tracker in preparation for her release, Sept. 11, 2017.
Lightning receives her transmitter at SeaWorld from Dr. Brent Stewart, a senior research scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.
Solstice, the rescued olive ridley sea turtle, is returned to the ocean by SeaWorld San Diego aquarist, Danielle Castillo (left) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Laura Todd, 15 miles off the coast of San Diego. The location returns the turtles to their natural home and near an oceanic current that flows southward towards warmer water off Mexico.
Tucker swims out to sea, ending a three-year rehabilitation effort for the three olive ridley sea turtles rescued between 2014 and 2015.

Story Tags

Aquatic animals
Endangered and/or Threatened species