History-making sea turtle swims toward freedom

Two weeks ago Sea World San Diego released Tucker the turtle back to the wild, and he's swimming off the coast of Mexico.

After making medical history in Seattle, Tucker the olive ridley sea turtle is now swimming off the coast of Mexico.

Sea World released him two weeks ago near San Diego.

The turtle turned up on the coast of Oregon in late 2015. He was suffering from cold shock.

"He wasn't breathing at the time. We could barely tell he was alive. The only sign that he showed he was alive was that he tucked his tail when you touched it," Amy Olsen remembered.

Olsen helped care for Tucker when he arrived at the Seattle Aquarium after stranding from cold shock in Oregon. He kept tucking that tail, so he got the name Tucker.

Once out of crisis, staff noticed Tucker couldn't dive properly. It would prevent him from eating and swimming away from predators if returned to the wild.

X-rays showed he had gas bubbles in his intestine which made him too buoyant.

Former Seattle Aquarium veterinarian, Lesanna Lahner, decided to try something never done before. Along with staff at Virginia Mason, Lahner wheeled Tucker into a hyperbaric chamber. Tucker would become the first sea turtle to have humans accompany him through that treatment. The hope was that the simulated dive and increased air pressure would push out the air bubbles.

A CT scan a few days later showed the treatment was working, and soon after aquarium staff and I flew with Tucker and another sea turtle as the Coast Guard took us to San Diego.

Tucker finished another year of rehab at Sea World and finally was cleared for release.

"It gave the whole process a nice closure, because I was able to see him back in his environment where he's supposed to be, back in the wild," Olsen said.

A satellite tag was glued to his shell so researchers can track him. Olsen gave Tucker one last pep talk before he swam off.

"He did a circle and came back to the door of the boat, almost as if he was like, 'OK, I'm off! See ya later!'" she said with a smile.

So far, Tucker has traveled several hundred miles and is currently off the coast of Mexico. At last check, he was swimming within about 20 miles of Lightning, one of the other turtles released the same day.

It's a good sign Tucker keeps swimming south toward breeding areas where he may soon find a mate.

Olive ridley sea turtles are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

© 2017 KING-TV


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