Seattle Aquarium veterinarians are checking the progress of an olive ridley sea turtle after a unique procedure. Virginia Mason Hospital welcomed Tucker to their hyperbaric chamber for two hours Monday afternoon to try to help him rehabilitate for release back into the wild.
Tucker was found stranded off the Oregon Coast a few months ago, and he can't dive properly. He swims on the water's surface and has to expend a lot of energy to dive. It means he would likely not survive if he had to hunt and fend for himself in the ocean.
“A normal sea turtle would be completely submerged, easily just sitting at the bottom. They’d work to get to the surface to breathe. As you can see with Tucker, he sits at the surface and has to work to get below the water. That’s the problem he has,” explained Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Lesanna Lahner.
Dr. Lahner and Dr. James Holm of Virginia Mason directed the procedure. The hyperbaric chamber increased air pressure to about three times the normal air pressure. It was as if Tucker dove to a depth of 60 feet. Tucker breathed pure oxygen for much of the time. The hope is that the increased air pressure combined with the oxygen will push out the air bubbles in Tucker's body.
"In this chamber, this will be the first animal ever treated,” Dr. Holm said.
It is likely the procedure will have to be repeated several more times. If it is successful, Tucker will be released back into the ocean near San Diego. Olive ridley sea turtles are endangered, and Tucker is an important piece for rebuilding their population puzzle.
“It’s important to resolve this issue with the bubble disease he has so he can go back and be a breeding turtle and contribute to his population,” Dr. Lahner said.
It was the first time in history that a human has accompanied and monitored a sea turtle during hyperbaric treatment, and it will give researchers unique insight into what happens to turtle physiology when the animals dive.