Turtle release off Exmouth

With winter comes wild waves, gusty winds, and unfortunately washed-up marine life. Every year we receive a bunch of calls from people here in Perth letting us know that they’ve found a lost turtle or sea snake washed ashore. Whilst these make up most of our enquiries, we do sometimes get confused callers ringing in about some sort of mystery marine animal… although these tend to just be a funny-looking sea squirt or sponge!

Despite a rough start to life, there is hope for these little guys – that’s where we come in.

First things first, First Aid

Turtles and Sea snakes that come into our care are administered ‘first aid’ depending on what condition they are in. Baby turtles that are found washed ashore off Perth are a long way from home, having been caught in the current and swept down the WA coastline. They are usually very lethargic, cold shocked and unfortunately most have missing flippers.

R&R: Recovery and Rehabilitation

After a proper examination with the vet team at Perth Zoo, they return to us at AQWA for their rehabilitation. This can involve anything from general feeding and maintenance of the exhibit, to administering antibiotics every other day and tube feeding turtles that aren’t eating. Approximately 95% of turtles we see have ingested micro plastics which we find in their poop. The damage that this can do internally can sometimes unfortunately be lethal.

Despite the rough start to life and a long road to recovery and rehabilitation, there is a positive ending to these little guys’ journey. During the months where turtles would naturally be hatching up north (February to April), we look at sending all of our fit and healthy turtles to join the mass migration they all undertake.

Let’s go Loggerheads!

The recent turtle release in Exmouth consisted of forty rehabilitated turtles, all of which were loggerhead turtles!

Twenty-one turtles came from Bunbury Dolphin Discovery, and the remaining nineteen turtles were rehabilitated at AQWA. In the past the turtles have been flown up to Exmouth, however due to the mass amount we had this year a marine officer from DBCA drove a temperature-controlled truck to Exmouth with 40 turtles in specifically designed individual containers. As air breathing reptiles, turtles are more than ok to be out of the water for periods of time. They were however still given a freshwater spray along the way to help keep them hydrated.

Once the turtles arrived safe and sound in Exmouth, flipper tags were applied. Each turtle has their own identification number so if they are ever found again that ID will bring up the history of that turtle. After a long day and night there was only one more thing that had to be done to complete this mission – releasing the turtles back out into the ocean!

Go time

The containers were loaded onto the boat and us humans jumped aboard too. We launched off the west side of Exmouth and went straight out, approximately twenty nautical miles, hoping to get past the flow of the Leeuwin current. This would give the turtles the best chance to be able to continue swimming directly west, out to sea where they naturally should go at this stage in their life.

Once we arrived at a suitable area it was GO TIME!

One by one each turtle was taken out of their container, wished all the best and gently placed into the big blue… let’s just say none of them looked back! The majority swam directly down to the depths, and before we knew it they were out of our sight. A few however, did like to have a quick look at themselves in the large dome camera from one of the ladies who was in the water filming. We can’t mention what or who, but we can say that this release will be part of an exciting documentary that will be aired sometime next year. Keep an eye out!

Sweet success

This release was made such a great success by absolutely everyone involved. From the people that found these little ones washed up on the beach and got them the help they needed, to Perth Zoo for doing any necessary medical procedures, to the rehabbers – Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre & AQWA (and all the staff involved in cleaning/feeding these guys everyday) to DBCA for organising the safe transport and gear necessary to release these turtles up in Exmouth. All species of marine turtles are classified as endangered, therefore every turtle we can rehabilitate and get back to the ocean counts.

An emotional occasion, yet pure happiness for these turtles to be sent home.