Mid-summer is the ideal time to release rehabilitated sea turtles back into the ocean off the Western Cape. At this time of the year, warmer currents extend into our usually frigid waters, creating fertile feeding conditions and giving rescued sea turtles with unknown origins the opportunity to find their natural migration paths again – whether they are loggerhead yearlings that may return to KwaZulu-Natal’s coast, or adult and subadult green sea turtles that may make their way towards West Africa or Madagascar.
Harry, Geri and about 40 other rehabilitated turtles will be released in the coming weeks - all thanks to the incredible efforts of our Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release team.
With this in mind, November and December are the times when the team of the Turtle Rescue Programme of the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation pay special attention to the long-term residents of the rehabilitation facility – as this is the ideal window for these larger and most enigmatic turtles to be released. One of these release candidates is Harry, a green turtle (Chelonia mydas), currently residing in our I&J Ocean Exhibit.
Harry was rescued at Stillbaai on 21 October 2020 by members of the public. He was incredibly weak, and suffering from severe carapace and skin necrosis known as “shell rot”, digestive issues associated with gut stasis caused by ingested plastic pollution, as well as some physical injuries, including a wound to his head. Despite his severe trauma, Harry regained strength quickly, and was dubbed the “magic sea turtle.”
Unfortunately, Harry has been left with damage to the left side of his brain, leading to focal atrophy and the partial loss of vision in his right eye. In situations like this, the team has to make the ethical consideration of whether or not the animal has a fair chance of surviving in the wild – to release an animal that is unable to survive would be wrong. In the case of Harry, the team has determined that although his impairment is permanent, it is minor enough that it is unlikely to significantly impact his ability to survive or carry out “normal” sea turtle behaviours – foraging, evading predators, and swimming efficiently.
Harry’s brain damage and vision loss have been closely monitored, and brain scans have been carried out. It is the informed opinion of veterinary experts that Harry’s condition will not deteriorate, but also that it will not heal any further, so there is no longer a benefit to Harry to remain in rehabilitation other than waiting for the ideal time to release him.
In addition to brain scans, Harry has also had several visits with the Cape Exotic Animal Hospital to ensure that his earlier digestive troubles have fully resolved, and an animal behaviourist has been monitoring his movements and engagement with enrichment activities in the I&J Ocean Exhibit closely to ensure that he’s acting as expected for a healthy turtle. Everyone is very happy with Harry’s recovery.
Harry’s path to recovery has certainly been a slow one, but he’s clearly been a great example of perseverance!
We will be releasing the details of the upcoming sea turtle release as soon as they are available – follow our channels!