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Rescued sea turtle recovering at Vancouver Aquarium after being found 'cold-stunned' on B.C. coast


Generally speaking, turtles like Moira are not supposed to be found in B.C.

The female loggerhead sea turtle currently recovering at Vancouver Aquarium is only the second one anyone at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Society can remember encountering in B.C. waters.

"These guys are quite rare," said Dr. Martin Haulena, the aquarium's head veterinarian and the executive director of the rescue society, which recently became a separate non-profit organization

"As far as we know, there's only been one reliable report of a loggerhead previously in British Columbia waters."

Loggerhead turtles typically prefer subtropical and temperate ocean climates, with nine distinct populations present across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The North Pacific segment of the population nests only in Japan, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so wherever Moira is from, she's likely far from home.

The rescue society picked up the animal on Feb. 4 in Pedder Bay, near Sooke. She was "cold-stunned" and hypothermic, with a core body temperature of only 8.4 C, when she was admitted to the VAMMR facility at the aquarium.

"She is currently receiving fluid therapy, antibiotics, and TLC from vet staff," the rescue society said in a statement Tuesday.

"The team is slowly increasing her temperature by a degree or two per day, careful not to increase too quickly."

Haulena said in an interview Wednesday that the turtle's recovery has progressed well so far. Her body temperature has risen to about 15 C, and the society is looking to get her up to 18 or 19 C on Friday, with 22 to 25 C the ultimate target temperature.

"Everything with reptiles happens slowly," he said, explaining that the "cold-stunning" that brought Moira to the rescue society likely took place over several days.

"The working hypothesis is she just got into currents that started bringing her more northward, and then as water progressively got colder and colder and she slowed down, she couldn't swim against those currents and just was at the mercy of wherever those currents would take her," Haulena said.

It's a phenomenon that's fairly common on the East Coast of the U.S., where water temperatures are generally warmer than they are in B.C.

"Of course, these guys are reptiles, so whatever the environmental temperature is, that's what their body temperature is," he said. "Most reptiles were not designed to work in cold water temperatures like we have off our coast."

Moira – so named by the society's staff and volunteers – weighs 38 kilograms (about 84 pounds), and staff estimate she's 15 to 20 years old.

While her arrival on the coast of Vancouver Island is unusual, Moira's now at the only facility in Western Canada that can provide her with the care she requires, according to the VAMMR.

The rescue society credited local marine biologist Dr. Anna Hall as the first person to respond to rescue Moira, saying she played a "vital role in making the rescue take place." It also noted that the rescue would not have been possible without permission from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Haulena explained that all wildlife rescue organizations work closely with provincial and federal authorities.

"Wildlife belongs to Canadians," he said. "They're not any one person's. So any work with wildlife falls under either provincial or federal jurisdiction. For marine mammals and sea turtles, in general, they fall under the purview of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans."

If Moira is able to make a full recovery, she'll eventually be sent to San Diego, where she can be released back into warmer waters, Haulena said. Top Stories

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