Return of 'the Blob' may be to blame as rare tropical sea turtle rescued in Port Alberni
Published Thursday, October 3, 2019 12:31PM PDT Last Updated Friday, September 11, 2020 9:55AM PDT
Rescue centre members nicknamed the turtle 'Berni Stranders,' after the town it was found in. (Vancouver Aquarium)
A rare and endangered tropical sea turtle has been rescued in Port Alberni, and officials say its arrival in Canada may be due to the return of a marine heatwave known as "the Blob."
The olive ridley turtle is native to warm tropical and subtropical waters. But this specimen, found by members of the public on Sept. 30, was brought ashore in Port Alberni suffering from a "dangerously low" body temperature, according to the Vancouver Aquarium's marine mammal rescue centre.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials immediately transported the turtle to Parksville to meet with a mammal rescue team, which determined that the 27-kilogram male had a body temperature of 11 C, far below its ideal temperature of over 20 C.
The aquarium says this is the fourth time an olive ridley turtle has ever been found in B.C. waters, and the first time since 2016.
Rescue centre members have nicknamed the turtle "Berni," after the town it was stranded in.
Berni appeared to be “cold-stunned,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian for Vancouver Aquarium.
"Because sea turtles are cold-blooded, they depend entirely on their environment to control their body temperature," the aquarium said in a release Thursday.
"When that environment is too cold, sea turtles get hypothermic, also known as cold-stunning. Their heart and respiration rates slow down, leaving them unable to swim or forage. As a result, they become weak and are vulnerable to predators."
Blame it on 'the Blob?'
The aquarium says the warm-water turtle may have landed on Vancouver Island due to the return of "the Blob," a patch of warm Pacific Ocean water that can be dangerous to marine wildlife and ecosystems.
"That’s really important at a primary level, because it allows algae and other nutrients to form and metabolize up the chain, up the ecosystem," Haulena said.
Sea turtles from Mexico and Central America sometimes ride warmer water currents into the cooler B.C. coastal region, according to the aquarium.
Mammal rescuers say their plan is to raise Berni's body temperature slowly by increasing the room temperature in the rescue centre.
"Once he’s stronger and showing signs of responsiveness, staff will place him in a pool set at the same temperature as his body for short periods of time," said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the rescue centre.
Staff at the rescue centre are treating Berni for dehydration and will continue doing bloodwork, ultrasounds, radiographs and administering antibiotics to the mammal.
"Berni has a long road to recovery but he is responding to treatment," said Akhurst. "Once he's stabilized, we will work closely with Canadian and U.S. authorities to get the permits that allow him to be released, in warmer waters."