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Tropical turtle found 'cold-stunned' in B.C. waters

Friday, October 4th 2019, 2:38 pm - The turtle could have travelled due to a warm area of water in the Pacific Ocean called the 'blob' or higher than average sea temperatures in general.

A sea turtle from the tropics has been found a long way from home and in frigid waters near Port Alberni, B.C.

The olive ridley sea turtle, nicknamed Berni Stranders, had a body temperature of just 11 C, nine degrees colder than its ideal body temperature, according to the Vancouver Aquarium.

The adult, male turtle was hypothermic or cold-stunned, said head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 2.31.19 PM (Image: The olive ridley sea turtle showed signs of hypothermia when it was found off the coast of Port Alberni, B.C. on Sept. 30, 2019. Courtesy: Vancouver Aquarium)

When that happens, a turtle's heart and respiration rate will slow and it becomes unable to swim or look for food, a statement from the aquarium said.

RELATED: Why the 'Blob' can be a real terror for marine life

The turtle is currently being treated at the aquarium's Marine Mammal 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 rescue centre manager Lindsaye Akhurst in a news release.

"Berni has a long road to recovery but he is responding to treatment," she said.

In an interview Thursday on CBC's On The Coast, Akhurst said staff are slowly increasing the temperature in the room at the aquarium where Stranders is rehabilitating, and that he perks up during his scheduled swims.

RELATED: The biggest threat to Canadian turtles

"It's a fairly slow process," said Akhurst (no pun intended).

Stranders measures just about one meter long and just over half a meter wide.

'He's very handsome," said Akhurst.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 2.35.10 PM (Image: Rescuers at the Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre are trying to nurse the olive ridley sea turtle back to health, after it was found far from home in B.C. on Sept. 30, 2019. Courtesy: Vancouver Aquarium)

It's still not clear why the turtle showed up so far north. The aquarium said it's only the fourth of its species to be recorded in B.C. waters in about 20 years.

Olive ridley turtles can typically be found in the Gulf of California, as well as reefs in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Central and South America.

SEE ALSO: Officials take action after sea turtle spotted feeding on raw sewage

Stranders was spotted by members of the public who called Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries staff transported the turtle to Parksville, B.C. where aquarium staff collected him and moved him to Vancouver.

Haulena said it could be due to a warm area of water in the Pacific Ocean called the blob or higher than average sea temperatures in general.

Olive ridley sea turtles are fairly abundant worldwide but are considered vulnerable because they nest in only a few places, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.


This article was originally published for CBC News.

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