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Strangers rally to save endangered sea turtle after ultra-rare discovery along B.C. coast

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Metchosin, B.C. -

When Sean Hutchinson is boating, he usually avoids getting caught up in kelp beds. But this time he felt compelled to take a closer look.

“I actually did a hard 90-degree turn,” Sean says as he leaves Pedder Bay Marina and points around the bend in the shoreline. “I went over there for whatever reason.”

Sean found the kelp covered in garbage, and started cleaning-up, before making an unexpected discovery.

“A head popped up and looked,” Sean recalls. “It was the ‘Oh my God’ moment.”

It was a sea turtle looking back at him. After spending decades on the ocean, Sean knew the creature was nowhere near native to the area.

“It kind of followed a little bit,” Sean says, before showing photos and video of the turtle floating beside the boat. “It was almost asking for help.”

Seeing as it was a Sunday night, contacting someone official to help proved a challenge. But then Sean remembered hearing about a friend of a friend whose wife was a marine zoologist, and they called Dr. Anna Hall.

“I dropped everything,” Anna recalls with a laugh. “Sunday dinner was still sitting on the counter and I just left.”

When Anna arrived on the ocean, she was surprised to see the sort of turtle you’d typically find in the warm waters around Mexico or Hawaii so close to the frigid coast of B.C.

“It looked like a creature moving towards the end of its life,” Anna says.

After getting the go-ahead from officials, Anna raced to orchestrate a rescue. The turtle was lifted out of the water and into a boat, before more volunteers and onlookers on shore scrambled to borrow a wheelbarrow a secure cushions to create a carrier for the creature when it arrived back at the marina.

“Sure enough, a wheelbarrow does fit in the back of my car with a large sea turtle in it,” Anna smiles.

The turtle's only hope of survival was travelling at least five hours from Metchosin on Vancouver Island to the Vancouver Aquarium on the mainland, all the the while ensuring the creature stayed hydrated and cold.

“We’re driving down the highway with the windows down,” Sean recalls of the cold journey. “I’m spraying the sea turtle (with a spray bottle in the back seat) to keep it wet all the way to BC Ferries.”

Staff at the Swartz Bay terminal stepped up to ensure the rescuers got on the first available ferry, before the turtle was greeted on the mainland by a team from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Society.

“Everybody was so happy the turtle made it to the people who know how to care for her,” Anna smiles.

Now being treated for hypothermia, the turtle has been named Moira. It turns out she is only the second loggerhead turtle ever found in the waters around B.C. While experts can only speculate how the endangered creature made it so far from home, Anna says there’s no doubt that countless strangers, like Sean, are responsible for Moira’s survival.

“People just came together to help a creature they had never seen before, and are probably never going to see again,” Anna smiles. “With any luck (Moira) will return to her home waters one day, because of caring people.” 

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