Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Posts from the ‘Sea Turtles’ category

How to Kill a Living Dinosaur. The Epitome of Disconnect?

I saw a Leatherback Sea Turtle. I did! And I don’t know if I can ever be the same again.

It happened on July 25th, while I was a member of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Marine Mammal Research Section aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel J.P. Tully. We surveyed up to 138 nautical miles (256 km) west of Vancouver Island. The purpose of the DFO survey was to increase knowledge about at-risk marine mammal and turtle species’ distribution and abundance.

Can you imagine the wonder, the euphoria, the astonishment, the sense of privilege at seeing this endangered giant that is a living dinosaur?

Here’s how it unfolded. It was at the end of the survey day around 8:02 PM on July 25th. I had finished my shift but was still having a discussion on the port side of the bridge. Suddenly, the Third Officer Brent Seamone said, from the other side of the bridge, “Hey, it’s a turtle!”

With all I had, I rushed to the other side of ship (apologies to any fellow crew members who may have been bruised as a result). And there it was . . . a shadow just under the surface, gliding away from the ship. I stared down its ridged back. Time seemed frozen, suspended for a turtle heartbeat or two. My synapses firing, my adrenaline surging, my brain questioned – could it really be true? And it was. In the vastness of the NE Pacific Ocean we had chanced upon a male Leatherback Turtle. This was the first known sighting of this endangered species in BC waters in two years* (and also reported to I-866-I-SAW-ONE).

Leatherbacks belong in the rich waters off BC’s coast, coming all the way from Indonesia to feed on jellyfish. I knew this well having only just launched the resource “Leatherbacks in BC” to raise awareness about these giants and the risks they face.

I marvelled at the incredible good luck of it – finding a proverbial needle in such a very large and deep haystack – but of course also that I happened to be on the bridge when I was. My dear friend who works so hard for Leatherback conservation and with whom I wrote the resource, had left the bridge mere minutes before the sighting. How wonderful it would have been for the Chief Scientist to see the turtle too.

I don’t have a photo. I wish I did to make the next part of what I have to share more impactful. Yes, now comes the “How to kill a living dinosaur” part.

Only a few days earlier, we retrieved these from the ocean – Canada Day balloons drifting out at sea in Leatherback habitat 20 days after Canada Day.

Canada Day balloons drifting in Leatherback habitat on July 21st. Photo: Hildering.

Canada Day balloons drifting in Leatherback habitat on July 21st. Photo: Hildering.

It was already our intent to have these images go widely into the world in the hope that it might make more realize that plastics (especially plastic bags) and balloons can kill endangered Leatherback Turtles (and other marine species). Sea turtles cannot discern these from their jellyfish prey. In fact, in a global study of 408 dead Leatherback Turtles, more than 30% had plastics in their intestines (Mrosovsky et al, 2009).

You can certainly see how the balloons could be mistaken for jellies.<br> Lisa Spaven of DFO in photo.

You can certainly see how the deflated balloons could be mistaken for jellies. Lisa Spaven of DFO in photo.

You can imagine my increased motivation for awareness now.

Of course we don’t know the backstory on these balloons – where they came from or if there was any attempt to retrieve them.

Tully crew removing the balloons from the ocean.

Tully crew removing the balloons from the ocean for the sake of Leatherbacks and other species.
Photo: Hildering. 

We do know that it is a far too common a practice to “celebrate” by releasing balloons into the air e.g. as symbolization when someone dies and even to mark an environmental event (yikes!!!)

But of course, unless items are biodegradable, there is no “away”. There is no throwing “away”, flushing “away” or  . . .  drifting “away”.  There is a cost to other species, and ultimately, to ourselves.

What I hope these images and words do, is increase this knowledge. Please could you help?

The solutions are simple, please help increase awareness that #balloonsblow and #plasticspollute.

For more on the wonder that is Leatherback Turtles in BC, please see

TMD Memes.001


* Last reported sighting of a Leatherback Turtle in BC waters prior to this was August 20, 2014 off SW Vancouver Island.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle off the Coast of BC!

[Update: Another Olive Ridley Sea Turtle was found in BC waters on September 30, 2019 in the Alberni Inlet. It is in care with Marine Mammal Rescue. It is the 4th Olive Ridley Sea Turtle ever known to be off the coast of BC. Has been named “Berni” and progress can be tracked at this link. ]

4th Olive Ridley Turtle known to be found off BC’s coast. Found 2019-09-30 in Alberni Inlet by Kraig Kimoto.

Below, initial blog item about the first ever Olive Ridley Sea Turtle found off the coast of British Columbia in 2011.

An Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) washed up on the southwest side of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Rim National Park on November 23rd, 2011. It was alive when found but tragically has died Since sea turtles other than Leatherbacks can go into a comatose-like state due to “cold stunning”, great care was taken to ensure the turtle was indeed dead. The necropsy determined that the turtle had suffered blunt force trauma, which suggests there had been a collision with a boat. 

This 2011 sighting is the first known sighting of this sea turtle species in British Columbian waters although, since they have been sighted in Alaska and Washington, it was anticipated that B.C. is part of their range. With the find of this unfortunate Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, B.C. can officially state that there are  3 species of sea turtle known to be in our waters. The other two are the Leatherback Sea Turtle (endangered and belongs in our waters) and Green Sea Turtle (endangered and also a species that would go into cold shock).  The Olive Ridley is the smallest of the world’s sea turtles with a maximum size of 1 metre. 

For facts about the natural history and conservation concerns for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, click here for the Cetacean Sightings Network’s fact sheet. Click here to directly link to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) assessment report determining this species is “Vulnerable”; one risk level below Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The report includes natural history information in addition to relaying conservation concerns.

I was unsuccessful in finding out the origin of this turtle species’ unique name. “Olive” is due to the colour of the carapace but why “Ridley”?

From the Westerly News article about the 2011 historic sighting: Westerly News; November 25, 2011; “Sea turtle found in Pacific Rim park – A first for B.C. waters”

A sea turtle species never before observed in B.C. waters was discovered at Wickaninnish Beach in Pacific Rim National Park reserve this week.

A species of sea turtle never before seen in B.C. waters arrived on Wickaninnish Beach this week.

Parks Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Vancouver Aquarium worked together to confirm the event as the first-ever sighting of an olive ridley sea turtle in B.C. waters.

“B.C. residents can be proud to learn that we now officially have three sea turtle species in our waters,” stated a media release from the three organizations involved.

A visitor to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve discovered the stranded and badly injured turtle on the beach on Tuesday. The visitor alerted park staff who examined the turtle and noted it had a broken shell and very few signs of life, only occasional flipper and eye movements.

Staff took the turtle away for monitoring and transport and on Wednesday staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Marine Mammal Response Network took the turtle for further examination.

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre provided help identifying and assessing the turtle, stabilizing the animal and recommending treatment.

“Since there was a small chance the turtle was affected by cold-stunning, a comatose state that develops in sea turtles that are exposed to sub-optimal temperatures, the turtle was transported to the aquarium where Dr. Martin Haulena and his team could do an examination,” stated the media release.
At the aquarium’s hospital, the team provided emergency treatment including fluids. An electrocardiogram and ultrasound were performed to look for a heartbeat.

Although there were faint electrical deflections noted, they were very weak and very infrequent. It was confirmed dead the very next morning.” On Thursday, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture pathologist, Dr. Stephen Raverty, performed a necropsy at the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Vancouver Aquarium veterinary staff.

The necropsy found that the turtle was a sub-adult female that died of blunt force trauma of an unknown source. Two small pieces of hard plastic were found in the turtle’s stomach. “Although not the cause of death for this turtle, the finding was an important reminder that the ingestion of marine debris is a significant threat to sea turtles.”

Future plans for the turtle’s body include genetic testing to confirm its species and to determine which population she belonged to. “It is not yet clear which population the turtle comes from, but [the] closest olive ridley nesting areas are on Pacific beaches of Mexico and Central America.”

The olive ridley is a small sea turtle that typically lives in tropical and warm waters.

“Scientists had been anticipating evidence that the olive ridley sea turtle was found in B.C. waters,” stated the media release, “since other sightings have been confirmed in Alaska and Washington.”

“Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Vancouver Aquarium appreciate the public’s role in reporting this important marine animal sighting.  Reports of dead, injured, distressed marine mammals and sea turtles can be reported to the Marine Mammal Response Network hotline 1-800-465-4336. Sightings of live, free swimming sea turtle and cetaceans can be reported to the Vancouver Aquarium’s BC Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-866-ISAWONE. When inside a national park, reports can be made directly to Parks Canada staff.

Further links related to sea turtle standings in British Columbia: