A couple of days ago, a team of researchers who were near Lixouri called our team, which protects sea turtles in Kefalonia, to inform us that they had found a distressed sea turtle in the area of Lixouri. The turtle was found floating in the sea upside down and did not attempt to swim away from the researchers or to escape from them when they tried to catch it and board it on their boat.
The team delivered the sea turtle at the Port Police of Lixouri, where it had to remain for a whole night before we picked it up, as the next bus to Athens, where ARCHELON’s Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is, was not until the next day.
In order to transport the sea turtle safely, crew members of the ferry boat “Ainos” offered us a free ride with our car from Argostoli to Lixouri and back. We received the male turtle from the Port Police of Lixouri and immediately noticed that it had no external injuries and moroeover seemed to be in a really good condition, as the healthy colour and shape of its carapace revealed.
The turtle became quite active during its transport from Lixouri to Argostoli. It was apparently tired, which was clearly the result of his stay outside the sea overnight and possibly his attempts to escape.
We began to doubt whether the sea turtle actually needed to be sent to the Rescue Centre of ARCHELON. Although the team who found him acted on the best of intentions, there are unfortunately no clear guidelines on when a sea turtle should be hospitalized. From our experience and relevant literature, we know that sea turtles often bask motionless in the sun to regain their body temperature. Moreover, long durations of underwater activity can force sea turtles to remain on surface, and if the water temperature drops quickly enough, which is common in the deep waters of the Ionian sea, it can cause a sea turtle to exhibit temporary swimming irregularities.
Thus we decided to try out the turtle and see if it can swim well on its own. There was no better place for such a trial than the Koutavos lagoon by the city of Argostoli. We transported the turtle there with our car and very carefully put it in the water, while holding the back of its carapace to keep it from escaping.
The turtle immediately tried to swim away, remaining under the sea surface at all times except when breathing. This convinced us that it had no permanent damage causing it to float. After observing a consistent behaviour for a few more minutes, we let the turtle swim free.
The turtle swam quickly through the shallow waters of the lagoon. We could observe it for some time, because it swam just under the water causing ripples as he steered left and right in the water to navigate the underwater labyrinth caused by the sea grass that reached up to the surface.
We joked that he will find good company here and can gather strength in the shallow warm waters of Koutavos. The lagoon is known to host a small population of resident sea turtles. Perhaps his strange behaviour was just the result of cold water, which often causes sea turtles to be slow to respond. We hope not to see him again; we only see female sea turtles often, when they come out on the beautiful beaches of Kefalonia to lay their nests.
This short adventure has intrigued my curiosity; what are the criteria to decide whether a sea turtle should be hospitalized? I decided to investigate the matter and write a short article, which should appear here soon. Until then, I hope we will see many more sea turtle nests, which only started yesterday in Kefalonia, and no injured or sick turtles.