Endangered sea turtle may have come to Vancouver Island waters with ‘the Blob’

WatchIt's an unusual visitor to Vancouver Island waters. The endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle is usually found in the warm south Pacific waters. But last month one turned up in the Alberni Inlet. Mary Griffin tells us how "Berni" got here and how veterinarians with the Vancouver Aquarium are now working to save him.

An endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle is far from the warm tropical waters he calls home.

On Sept. 30, he turned up in the Alberni Inlet with a temperature of 11 C, a drop from the normal 20 C. Nicknamed “Berni”, he’s now undergoing treatment at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

Marine Mammal Rescue Centre Manager Lindsaye Akhurst said it’s only the second Olive Ridley sea turtle to be rescued. Sea turtles are cold-blooded and depend on their environment to control body temperatures so when the water gets too cold, the turtles become hypothermic, also know as cold-stunning.

“But definitely at this time of year, an odd case to have at the centre,” Akhurst said.

“Berni” is only the fourth of his species to turn up in B.C. waters. So why is he so far from home when he should be in the tropics?

Scientists say the turtle may have come up north due to the “blob”, a warmer than usual area of water off the west coast. Or he could have hitchhiked on a warm current in B.C. waters.

The last Olive Ridley turtle found off the west coast turned up on Combers Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, also suffering from hypothermia.  Dr. Richard Thomson said the sea turtle likely followed the warm water all the way to the Alberni Inlet.

“It’s changing, air temperature is warming, water temperatures are warming. So the changes in ecology are following the change in temperature. The animals are migrating,” Dr. Thomson said.

And while sea turtles remain rare off Vancouver Island, the expectation is that as long as the water remains warm, more tropical tourists like Berni could be on the way.

With files from The Canadian Press

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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