EUGENE, Ore. - Three endangered sea turtles found washed up on the Oregon Coast in 2014 and 2015 have been successfully released back into the wild, the Oregon Coast Aquarium said Tuesday.
"SeaWorld’s Rescue Team, in coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, made history with a groundbreaking rehabilitation protocol that involved placing the turtles in a deep saltwater pool (12 feet and 115,000 gallons)," the aquarium said in a statement. "Slowly but surely the turtles began to dive, forage and maintain proper buoyancy. After being determined by SeaWorld’s veterinarians and aquarists to be in good condition, of proper weight, navigating through a water column and eating a variety of food types, the turtles were returned to their ocean home approximately 15 miles off the coast of San Diego."
Scientists outfitted the turtles with satellite transmitters prior to their release to monitor their movements.
The Oregon Aquarium identified the turtles as Solstice, Lightning and Tucker.
Solstice was found hypothermic and dehydrated on a beach in southwest Washington on December 21, 2014 - the winter solstice. She was likely not yet an adult; she weighed about 41 pounds; full grown olive ridley turtles weigh about 100 pounds. The Oregon Coast Aquarium cared for the female turtle until she was flown to SeaWorld by the Coast Guard in February 2015.
Lightning was part of a record-setting winter of 2015/2016, when 10 turtles were found stranded on Northwest beaches. Four of those turtles recovered enough to make the trip to San Diego. Tim Ebarb found Lightning in Bob Straub State Park in December 2015 following a winter thunderstorm. Ebarb alerted authorities and stayed with the turtle for 2 hours until help arrived. When lightning arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, she was suffering from hypothermia, buoyancy issues and unknown injuries to both eyes, staff said. The U.S. Coast Guard transported Lightning to SeaWorld San Diego in March 2016. Another turtle found around the same time - dubbed Thunder - died after being taken to SeaWorld.
Tucker was rescued by the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon in December 2015, and like Lightning was one of that record-setting 10 turtles found that winter. Tucker was found comatose near Cannon Beach in Oregon and taken to the Seattle Aquarium for care. The Coast Guard flew Tucker to SeaWorld San Diego in April 2016.
The turtles likely followed warm water north from their typical range off southern California and Mexico.
"Over the last few years, a combination of El Niño storms and a large mass of relatively warm water known as “the blob” all conspired to shift ocean marine life, turtles in particular, off course and into chilly waters that left them stranded on beaches in the Pacific Northwest," the aquarium said in a statement.