Sea turtle gets celebrity send-off after months of rehab at Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific

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Her name is LO13-1, and when she got stranded on Venice Beach earlier this year she was underweight, extremely cold and had a hard time floating.

This olive ridley sea turtle has spent the last nine months being nursed back to health at Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific. On Thursday, she was released back into the ocean in front of a gaggle of excited media and scientists. All that was missing to make it a full Hollywood send off was the ubiquitous red carpet.

"The ultimate goal is that we gave her enough of a helping hand that she'll be strong and healthy now, that she'll be able to go back to doing what sea turtles do," said Dr. Lance Adams, the veterinarian who oversaw the turtle's recovery at the aquarium.

Scientists said that in addition to her being an endangered turtle and of "mature" age (a lady never tells), there isn't a lot they could tell about her past, or how she ended up on a Southern California beach.

But they do hope to keep track of her in the future.

Last week a GPS transmitter was epoxied to LO13-1's shell, said Adams, and that tracker typically stays on the turtle for two to four weeks. Each transmitter costs between $1,800 to $2,500, and are pretty much a one-time-use item because the turtles often ditch the tracker somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

Tina Fahy is the Sea Turtle Recovery Coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- NOAA Fisheries. She said that olive ridley sea turtles are avid swimmers, making them "highly migratory." And based on a genetic analysis of LO13-1, she came from somewhere in the Eastern Pacific, either Mexico, Costa Rica or Guatamela. 

Fahy said that although these reptiles are the "most prolific" sea turtles in the world, they're still classified as "threatened" or "endangered" depending on the country they are found in. She said that NOAA has been working especially hard with Mexico to preserve these turtles.

"Under Mexican law since 1990, Mexicans are banned from taking turtle eggs and turtle meat, but it still happens," Fahy said.

Egg poaching, turtle harvesting and marine debris all pose threats to these traveling turtles. But in addition to dangers created by humans, olive ridley turtles are tropical, and can be in big trouble if they find themselves in cold water, like LO13-1 when she landed in Venice.

In fact, Adams said the rescued turtle's temperature was less than 50 degrees when she was found, which is "absolutely not normal." But after being taken into the aquarium, Adams said she was calm, comfortable around people and took well to rehab.

On Thursday morning, dozens of unfamiliar faces crowded around her carrier to get a look and take pictures. For the most part, she seemed unfazed. For a brief moment when LO13-1 seemed distraught, her caretakers laid a towel over her eyes and soon after she was calm again.

Then a little after 9 a.m., LO13-1 was loaded onto a boat with aquarium staff and the harbor patrol and taken out to sea past the noise and congestion of Long Beach's boats and cargo ships. The boat stopped to let her out just past a group of dolphins and a swarm of birds. The tub the sea turtle was being held in was carried to the back of the boat up to the water's edge. When she was released into the Pacific Ocean, she took off without a moment's hesitation.

Adams said that although he doesn't know where the turtle's headed, he would expect she'd move to warmer waters, possibly Mexico. He said that the tracker attached to her will help them keep track of her path, at least until it falls off in the ocean somewhere, which usually happens after two to four weeks.

Eventually if the sea turtle ends up on a nesting beach, someone may be able to identify her by her tags and trace her back to Long Beach.

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