Tucker the turtle continues to improve at Sea World Rescue in San Diego after spending six months at the Seattle Aquarium. He is eating and swimming much better than expected.
The endangered olive ridley was found stranded and near death late last year on the Oregon Coast.
He made history as the first sea turtle to undergo hyperbaric treatment for gas bubble disease, which veterinarian Lesanna Lahner discovered. It made diving difficult for Tucker, which meant he could not return to the wild until his buoyancy issue was resolved.
Last Thursday, Tucker was loaded onto a Coast Guard C-130 at Boeing Field.
"I think when he gets to San Diego he'll remember where he's from," Lahner said.
Loaded with Tucker was Comber, a green sea turtle who was stranded in Canada and recovered at the Vancouver Aquarium. The plane's crew is used to marine animal passengers, and even prefers them over humans.
"They're really good. They're very quiet, easy to take care of. They don't ring the bell a lot," Ron Clark laughed.
The cabin was kept at about 70 degrees, and the temperature was checked regularly to make sure it didn't get too cold.
Where they're headed, Sea World San Diego, a half dozen sea turtles are rehabilitating from strandings along the west coast. The Pacific Northwest saw nearly four times the strandings of a normal year.
"Having ten turtles wash up, saving four of them, it was pretty unusual," said USFW Field Supervisor Laura Todd. "We really want to give them the help they need to get them off the endangered species list and get them healthy again."
After nine hours of dry land and 11,000 feet of sky, animal care technicians hoisted Tucker into his new tank. Watching was Amy Green, the vet tech who spent nearly every day with Tucker in Seattle.
"He has changed 100%," she said. "He was comatose and not breathing. No response except for tucking his tail when we first got him."
That's how Tucker got his name. His buoyancy issue must improve before he can return to the wild, but Tucker's Seattle family is hopeful he'll find a new family someday soon.
"He looks great," Green said. "He's like a whole 'nother turtle."