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A whopping 100 kilogram Green Turtle had a fantastic end to the year, making a full recovery at Taronga Wildlife Hospital and splashing back into the open ocean recently. 

Some weeks ago, the magnificent turtle was rescued by NSW Marine Park Rangers at Port Stephens after being found unable to dive or swim properly and floundering offshore. In exceptionally poor health and completely unable to fend for itself in the wild, the Rangers bought the turtle to Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital for expert care.

Vet Frances cares for the rare turtle

So our nurses went to work caring for this massive marine turtle along with an army of Taronga’s strongest, some of our loveable labourers, whose muscles came in handy to help move the turtle, affectionately known as the ‘Big Bopper’.Green Turtles are endangered and very few of them ever make it to adulthood, so this huge adult was an exceptionally special patient. The race was on to find out why it was so unwell and get it back out into the wild.

Apart from not being able to swim or dive, the turtle was unable to poo, not a great sign! The main concern was that it had swallowed a plastic bag or combination of human litter. This is a BIG problem for turtles. They often mistake our rubbish for food and gobble it down which causes major issues with their guts and usually means certain death.

After x-rays, blood tests and a full medical check-up it was discovered that the turtle was full of faeces and gas, but thankfully there didn’t seem to be any rubbish inside.

In fact after a while in care, the turtle put on an additional six kilograms and on the day of its return to the ocean, a small crane was used to lift the big fella. We all joked that even though it couldn’t swim when it arrived, it had surpassed our expectations by being able to fly, even though it was under the watchful eye of many nurses, vets, a very experienced crane driver and aided by a special turtle carrying harness!

Rangers fit the turtle with a state of the art tracker
Rangers fit the turtle with a state of the art tracker

At Taronga Wildlife Hospital, the day an animal returns to the wild, after lots of hard work and TLC is a joyous day. It was made even more special by the fact that the Rangers who dropped ‘Big Bopper’ off couldn’t believe the change in the animal. Gone was the inactive, forlorn looking turtle who was knocking on death’s door, rather a very feisty Green Sea Turtle greeted them, flapping his flippers as if telling the Rangers it was good to go and ready to dive back into the open ocean.

Big Bopper’s second chance at life will also provide invaluable information to researches. The adult turtle was fitted with a state of the art Sirtracker, which was delivered to Taronga Wildlife Hospital all the way from New Zealand. This means that when the turtle comes up to take a breath, the tracker which is attached to the highest part of its shell will let researchers know its location. The tracker will last for about a year and will help shed some light on where Green Turtles go and how far they swim.

So hopefully this is not the last we hear of Big Bopper, all of us at Taronga can’t wait to see where his next adventure will take him. Unbelievably, not much is known about the migration of turtles, it is often referred to as the turtle ‘lost years’. Two juvenile turtles are also currently being tracked around the Port Stephens area, but they seem to stay quite localised. The area however is bigger than Sydney Harbour, so it will be of much interest to see how far a 106 kilogram adult will travel.

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