Comber gets his final checkup at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre before leaving for San Diego and his eventual return to the ocean.

Sea turtle’s rehabilitation a Canadian first

“Everything went fantastic. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is never look back and just take off."

Comber’s unprecedented journey home is now in nature’s hands.

The inspiring Green sea turtle was released back into the ocean off San Diego’s coast on Oct. 20 wrapping up what is believed to be Canada’s first stranded-to-success story of his species.

Dr. Martin Haulena, who led the Vancouver Aquarium veterinary team that rehabilitated Comber, was following the day’s events closely and told the Westerly the release followed its heartwarming script.

“Everything went fantastic. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is never look back and just take off,” Haulena said.

“I am personally, incredibly excited and happy and super proud of our team. This is, as far as we know, the very first sea turtle stranded in Canada that has been successfully rehabilitated and released so this is totally awesome…This is huge for us and really, really huge for him.”

Comber was not expected to survive after being found washed up on Wickaninnish Beach in January.

He was discovered by Ucluelet local Liisa Nielsen who immediately reported his arrival to Pacific Rim National Park staff putting the wheels in motion for a transport to the Vancouver Aquarium.

When he arrived in Haulena’s hands, the 35-kilogram Comber was hypothermic with a body temperature of 11.2 C that needed to be raised slowly to at least 20 C to have any shot at survival. Along with the rough shape he was in, history was not on his side as reports of sea turtles washing up in Canada and eventually being healthy enough to head home didn’t exist before this one.

“The odds are always stacked up against us,” Haulena said.

“What we do is very difficult and not every one of these animals is as successful as this so when one is as successful, and we see it all the way through to the end and even beyond now thanks to satellite tracking technology, it absolutely feels great.”

He added it’s a success story his team deserved.

“It’s stuff like this that is exactly the reason that all of us do what we do,” he said.

“It’s really, really hard work. It’s many, many sleepless nights. It’s a whole lot of energy. They aren’t the highest paid people in the world by any stretch of the imagination but they’re super dedicated and it’s not just them; there’s an aquarium full of people that cared about him and cared for him.”

Comber is believed to be between 18-25 years old and that means he’s been sent home in time to fulfill his biological destiny. Green sea turtles live an average of 80-100 years and reach sexual maturity in their early 30’s, according to Haulena.

“He’s still got quite a bit of growing to do and it will be interesting to see his progress,” Haulena said.

A device was attached to Comber to track his movements and locals can visit the aquarium’s website—www.vanaqua.org—to check out how he’s doing, though Haulena cautions not to panic if the signal stops.

“If he really really tries hard, he can knock it off or it can break an antennae and it just won’t work so you kind of have to interpret, if it stops prematurely, what that really means,” he said,

“If we can get 200 days out of it, that would be really pushing the envelope so we won’t really see what he does with the rest of his life. But, certainly if it stays attached for a couple of months at least we’ll get a good idea that he’s out there and surviving and doing the things that turtles need to do.”

Because Comber is the first sea turtle to be successfully rehabilitated in Canada, he is about to become the baseline for future rescue efforts.

“There’s definitely information that’s gathered that, as it’s recorded and as it’s stored and shared, can add to information later on as you get more numbers,” Haulena said.

“Some of it is of social importance because we want to do a good job and we want to make sure that what we’ve done helps this turtle. There’s been a lot of effort. There’s been a lot of money spent and if he’s not successful after release then you have to go back and say, ‘What do we do differently to help the next one down the line?’”

He said regardless of Comber’s success from here on out, the fact the turtle’s health was restored to the level of being able to be released is a huge win.

“No matter what happens, there is an incredible sense of pride for the team and its effort and what we’ve accomplished here. I think that’s really awesome. Whatever happens today, and in the days to come, nothing can take that away,” he said.

“But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s definitely some interest in following him and definitely a sense of responsibility for how he does…No matter how happy and proud you are, it’s like your kids; you never stop worrying about them.”

 

 

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