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. ]
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:
- Alberni Valley News; October 3, 2019; “Tropical sea turtle rescued from Alberni Inlet ‘Berni’ the olive ridley sea turtle is recovering from cold shock at the Vancouver Aquarium“
- CTV News; February 10, 2012; “Another tropical turtle dies in icy B.C. seas”