Yoshi the loggerhead turtle is known by many titles: She's our world record holder and "Greatest-of-all-time" ocean ambassador. She's been referred to as the ultimate traveller, influencer, inspiration, adventurer, navigator, foodie and "most famous sea turtle ever". We can now, with confidence, add "discoverer" and "lead scientist" to that list! Yoshi literally guided Australian scientists to a previously unknown loggerhead foraging site off the coast of Western Australia.
A team from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions in Western Australia has been incredible with their support and interest in Yoshi, and headed to Port Samson earlier this week hoping that they would be able to locate Yoshi and replace her ageing satellite tag. On their arrival in Yoshi's vicinity, the sea conditions were great and they picked up Yoshi’s satellite signals on their mobile receiver. Dr Scott Whiting knew it was going to be a bit of a "needle in a haystack" search – but what they did not realise was that they were going to find a whole lot of other needles in that haystack! They did not expect to find 40 other loggerhead turtles in the most ideal feeding ground. They could hear Yoshi’s ping, but unfortunately never caught sight of her (she can sure hide well for such a large turtle).
Dr Whiting said they found numerous loggerhead turtles, ranging from juveniles to adults. This high density of loggerheads indicated that Yoshi found a great foraging site, which seems to be an ideal loggerhead turtle habitat. She finds herself surrounded by many members of her species – so she is not alone on her ocean adventure! This location is quite remote with very little boat traffic and thus a very safe area for sea turtles.
She has moved towards Port Hedland over the last few days and finds herself between the Australian mainland and Little Turtle Islet in wonderful 32°C water and a gentle south-west current. Port Hedland is the second largest town in the Pilbara region (with about 16 000 people) and has the busiest cargo port in Australia. The Kariyarra People (first nations in Pilbara) call it Marapikurrinya – which refers to the hand-shaped formations of the tidal creeks coming off the natural harbour, or also "Place of Good Water".
We're so pleased that Yoshi has been welcomed in Australia with open arms (and flippers) – and since we don’t know yet whether she is an Aussie, or a South African or maybe even Japanese, she seems to be welcome worldwide!
Port Hedland has a flatback sea turtle rookery on their main beachfront, and Little Turtle Islet is about 20 km offshore which, when it was measured up by surveyors in the 1970s, was submerged during spring high tides causing them to have to jump on their boat every 12 hours or so. It is surrounded by a beautiful reef with shallow coral and sponge gardens and stingrays, wobbegongs, parrotfish and batfish are often seen here.
Yoshi has covered about 300km in the last two weeks along the Western Australian coast, so has slowed down her average daily distance travelled as she is clearly enjoying exploring and foraging with friends.
This sea turtle just continues to amaze us!
"A huge big thank you to the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, to the Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation and ABC Broadcasting for their time, interest and effort in searching for Yoshi. In particular to Dr Scott Whiting and Dr Sabrina Fossette. Much appreciation also to our very own Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts’ Sarika Singh and Darrell Anders, as well as Prof. Ronel Nel based at Nelson Mandela University," said Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation CEO Maryke Musson. "Global collaboration in conservation is critical, and gathering such incredible data together, with Yoshi, is contributing hugely to understanding loggerhead turtle movement patterns which guides conservation planning."
Yoshi's legacy in Cape Town
When Yoshi was released from the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2017, Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble commented that "she has left a Yoshi-sized hole in the Ocean Exhibit." We'll we're pleased to say that although Yoshi has left a very large hole, we've been able to fill it with a very large way to honour her...
Inspired by the successful rehabilitation and release of Yoshi the loggerhead, the Two Oceans Aquarium redoubles its turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts. This has culminated in a fully-fledged Turtle Rescue Programme within the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, the non-profit, public benefit partner of the Two Oceans Aquarium. This programme successfully rehabilitates and releases hundreds of endangered sea turtles each year, and works closely with communities and through integrated educational programmes to instil a sense of pride and protection of the ocean in tens of thousands of children yearly.
Yoshi has also inspired a fundraising campaign called the #YoshiChallenge. “We are asking people to look at the epic journey that Yoshi has undertaken and help us to help more turtles like her. Through the #YoshiChallenge we would like to honour Yoshi’s journey and raise funds to rescue more turtles and create the next generation of ocean champions through education,” says Maryke Musson. You can contribute to the #YoshiChallenge here.
About Yoshi's journey
Yoshi the loggerhead turtle arrived in Cape Town in July 1997 on a Japanese fishing vessel as a small 2-kilogram juvenile with a very distinctive injury on the side of her shell. The captain of the fishing vessel named her Yoshitaro, after the cook onboard who was rather small in stature himself. He contacted the Two Oceans Aquarium and asked for help. The Aquarium took the turtle in and pretty soon, staff and visitors to the Aquarium alike, had fallen in love with this feisty little turtle.
Through working with Yoshi, over the years Aquarium staff gained confidence in handling sea turtles and general turtle husbandry and started caring for stranded turtle hatchlings as well as occasional larger stranded and injured turtles.
Over her 20 years at the Aquarium, Yoshi grew to a formidable 180 kilograms and was very aptly known as the "Queen of the Exhibit". At approximately 25 years of age, Aquarium staff knew she was maturing and her breeding instincts started kicking in. After much research and discussion, it was decided that it would be in her best interest to be released. The next 18 months were spent preparing her for life back in the ocean, which included daily exercise to increase her fitness levels.
On 16 December 2017, the Two Oceans Aquarium released Yoshi back into the ocean. Weighing 183kg, Yoshi was released 27 nautical miles south-west of Hout Bay in 20.6°C water. Her journey took her along the west coast of Africa to Namibia and Angola, where she spent some time. She then turned around and headed east past Cape Town, and is now officially in Australian waters.