A green sea turtle rescued from a beach has been swimming laps alongside predators at Sealife Melbourne aquarium to prepare for his release into the wild, with a phalanx of divers to act as bodyguards.
The immature turtle was discovered washed up on a beach on the Mornington Peninsula in August, severely underweight and battling pneumonia.
He was taken to the aquarium for a course of antibiotics and has doubled in weight from 7.7kg to 15.8kg. Mature turtles can grow to 100kg and live well into their eighties.
The turtle’s sex is not known — green sea turtles cannot be identified by sex until they reach sexual maturity in their twenties — but the walker who discovered him named him Terry, so he has assumed male pronouns.
On Tuesday, Terry was released into the aquarium’s 2.2m-tonne “Oceanarium” tank, which contains sharks, Queensland groupers, and other predators he is likely to encounter in the wild.
Following along behind were Sealife exhibit manager Tereza Todd and two other divers, hovering like anxious parents ready to step in at the first sign of bullying.
“Queensland groupers’ favourite food are small turtles, crayfish and sharks,” Todd told Guardian Australia. “We didn’t want this new animal entering the tank and automatically attracting the attention of the Queensland groupers.”
It was unlikely someone would try to take a bite – Todd said the aquarium’s sharks and other predators were “big puppies” that were too well-fed and friendly to bother anyone – but Terry didn’t know that.
He deployed all the turtle tricks to appear bigger, such as swimming sideways and pressing his rear flippers close to protect exposed soft flesh, which Todd said boded well for his ability to survive less friendly encounters in the wild.
Terry will be released next month, pending DNA tests to identify whether he belongs to the east coast or west coast turtle colony.
If he is an east coast turtle, he will be released near Mallacoota in East Gippsland, which is at the tail end of the east Australian current. If he belongs to the west, he will be handed over to Western Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service.
Like the turtles in Finding Nemo, he will be able to ride the current north once the southern summer feeding season ends.
A recent study found that rising sea temperatures caused by climate change were significantly increasing the proportion of female hatchlings born in the Great Barrier Reef population, threatening the future genetic diversity of the species.
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