Perhaps turtles are not as cute and cuddly as some animals, but the tale of Tucker the turtle’s travels is a spirit lifter.
The turtle, who was brought to the Seattle Aquarium near death a year and a half ago, suffered from a host of problems and became the first non-human to be treated in a hyperbaric chamber at Virginia Mason Hospital and Medical Center.
But earlier this month he was released, along with two other turtles, into the ocean waters off the coast of San Diego.
And since then he, and his two female companions – who were all tagged so that researchers could track their travels – have made it down to Mexico.
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His story is one of resiliency and will.
Turtles don’t get a lot of attention but they need some, and we need a little good news in this world.
Amy Olsen, a Seattle Aquarium lab specialist
“Turtles don’t get a lot of attention but they need some, and we need a little good news in this world,” said Amy Olsen, the Seattle Aquarium lab specialist who helped nurse him to health.
Tucker was found sick and dying on the Oregon coast a year and a half ago. In fact, he was so sick that the only way people knew the olive ridley sea turtle was even alive is that he tucked his tail in when touched, hence his name.
Tucker was brought to the Seattle Aquarium, our state’s only turtle rehabilitation facility, after folks at the Oregon Coast Aquarium first found him.
Tucker’s internal temperature measured about 40 degrees when he arrived in Seattle, about half what it should be.
“He was cold stunned,” aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner told The Seattle Times then. “His organs were just in a holding pattern. When they are that cold, they are pretty much shut down. He was a particularly challenging case because he was not breathing on his own.”
Tucker also had severe pneumonia.
With no ventilator suitable for an animal that breathes only twice a minute, Lahner and aquarium staff took turns pressing a bulb on a tube in his mouth to puff air into the turtle’s lungs around the clock, for a week. Then Tucker finally took his first breath on his own.
Lahner and her team also slowly warmed the turtle, raising his body temperature about 2 degrees a day, by allowing him to acclimate in a room with exposure to the outside air and a heater.
He slowly regained his appetite after being hand-fed anchovies, shrimp and squid.
He was also suffering from buoyancy problems because he had micro-bubbles of air in his tissues, which his trip to the hyperbaric chamber eased.
He was then transferred to Sea World in San Diego, where his stay in a bigger pool gave him the chance to dive deep and helped him recover, said Olsen.
Before his release, researchers installed trackers on Tucker and two female companions, Lightning and Solstice, so his movements could be watched. The females had also been at Sea World and were ready for release.
Tucker, who is an active and energetic youngster between 10 and 15 years old, appears to be safe and sound and doing exactly what his caretakers hoped he would do.
“He’s heading down to his natural habitat in warmer waters,” said Olsen, “and we hope he will, over time, fertilize some eggs and contribute to his species.”