(Screencap from video by Ocean Wise)

A sea turtle that usually inhabits tropical and sub-tropical waters was found suffering from hypothermia near Port Alberni earlier this week.

On Monday, September 30th, members of the public rescued the Olive Ridley sea turtle and handed him over to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He was then transported to Parksville to meet members of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMRC) team and receive treatment.

See also: Rare endangered Leatherback turtle spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island

The turtle, nicknamed ‘Berni’ after the city where he was stranded, is only the fourth of its kind found in B.C. waters.

He was found with a body temperature of just 11°C which is dangerously low compared to an Olive Ridley sea turtle’s ideal temperature of 20ºC.

Experts believe he has been “cold stunned” which means that the environment around him was too cold thereby causing hypothermia. Cold blooded reptiles, like Berni, rely on their surroundings to regulate their body temperature.

Next steps

The plan now is to gradually increase Berni’s body temperature by slowly raising the ambient temperature of the hospital. MMRC staff have also been administering fluids to treat dehydration, and running diagnostic testing, including bloodwork, ultrasound and radiographs.

“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 Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

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Specialists at Ocean Wise believe that one reason for the tropical sea turtle’s presence in B.C. waters is because of what is called “the blob” – a warmer-than-usual area of water located in the Pacific Ocean just off the west coast of North America.

According to head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena, the blob can harm all marine organisms, as cooler water generally means more oxygen.

Another possible explanation is that of rising sea temperatures causing unusual migrations among sea creatures.

“Berni has a long road to recovery but he is responding to treatment. 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,” says Akhurst.

While the Olive Ridley sea turtle is the second smallest and most populous of all sea turtles, it is considered endangered and classified as vulnerable worldwide by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List.