Endangered Turtle Survives Trans-Atlantic Journey | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Endangered Turtle Survives Trans-Atlantic Journey

Play associated audio

On Florida's Gulf coast Tuesday, there will be a celebrated homecoming. For a turtle. This is no ordinary turtle: Known as Johnny Vasco da Gama, after the 15th-century Portuguese explorer, it crossed the Atlantic twice — by sea and by air.

Johnny, as his human friends call him, is a critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtle. Only a few thousand of these sea-turtles exist, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. Normally, they do not migrate across the Atlantic.

But in 2008, a juvenile Kemp's Ridley washed ashore in Europe — cold, exhausted and 4,600 miles from home. Turtle scientist Tony Tucker reckons the turtle hitched a ride.

"Most little turtles — they're living in the sargassum rafts," Tucker says. "The sargassum brown seaweed that floats at the surface provides them shelter from predators like seagulls and albatrosses, but it's also a rich source of food."

Tucker, who works with the sea turtle conservation program at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, thinks Johnny and his seaweed raft got caught in a big circular current called the North Atlantic Gyre. The journey would have taken over a year.

Johnny's rescuers nursed him to health in the Netherlands and then Portugal. But they knew he was a rare species and needed to get home. So they flew him to Florida on a Portuguese airliner.

"They bolted out one of the passenger rows of seats and made a place inside a special container for Johnny, and he got to ride all the way across the Atlantic," Tucker says. "This jet-setting turtle has already crossed the Atlantic twice now, but once in style."

Biologists at Mote were ready for him.

"We had prepared a warm tank for him, and he's been swimming ever since. I think there was probably a bit of travel stress — we could call it jet lag if you will — but Johnny has come out of that very nicely," Tucker says.

Museum records in Europe and the United Kingdom show that four Kemp's ridley turtles have made this trip in the last century, but those were just one-way.

On Tuesday, scientists will set Johnny free in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This time, he'll be wearing a satellite tag on his back.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Little House,' Big Demand: Never Underestimate Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wilder's memoir reveals that she witnessed more violence than you'd ever know from her children's books. The South Dakota State Historical Society can barely keep up with demand for the autobiography.
NPR

Coffee Horror: Parody Pokes At Environmental Absurdity Of K-Cups

The market for single-serving coffee pods is dominated by Keurig's K-Cups. But they aren't recyclable, and critics say that's making a monster of an environmental mess. Meet the K-Cup Godzilla.
NPR

Insurance Choices Dwindle In Rural California As Blue Shield Pulls Back

When Blue Shield Of California stopped selling individual health policies in many zip codes in 2014, even insurance agents were surprised. Blue Shield says it dropped out to keep premiums low.
NPR

Charles Townes, Laser Inventor, Black Hole Discoverer, Dies At 99

Physicist Charles Townes died Tuesday. He was a key inventor of the laser and won the Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1964. But his career didn't end there.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.