Meet Johnny Vasco de Gama, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle that somehow found himself stranded in the Netherlands in November 2008. Johnny was rehabilitated in Portugal and arrived at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday (Nov. 29, 2011), his last stop before release into the wild. Here, Mote animal care technician Jenna Rouse and Mote intern Matt Brochhausen transfer the turtle from a vehicle to the Mote Marine Laboratory Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles prefer warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. So how did one end up in the chilly Netherlands? Marine biologists think the turtle became "cold-stunned" by cold water and drifted thousands of miles. Cold-stunning can shut down turtles' bodily functions and even kill them, according to Mote Marine Lab, but fortunately, Johnny Vasco de Gama was rescued. Officials at the Rotterdam Zoo stabilized the turtle and sent him to the aquarium Oceanario de Lisboa in Portugal. The aquarium, in turn, transferred the turtle to Zoomarine, a marine-based theme park in Portugal, for more rehab.
Why all this effort for one turtle? Kemp's ridley sea turtles like Johnny are critically endangered. They're actually the rarest species of sea turtle. Perhaps that helps explain why Johnny Vasco de Gama got his own specially adapted cabin in the TAP Portuguese airliner to make his way to the United States.
Meghan Koperski, an environmental specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), measures Johnny during a brief veterinary exam upon the turtle's Nov. 29, 2011, arrival at Mote Marine Lab.
Kemp's ridley turtles grow to be about 2 to 3 feet (61–91 centimeters) long and about 99 pounds (45 kilograms) heavy.
Caregivers from Zoomarine, the theme park in Portugal that rehabbed Johnny Vasco de Gama, watch as the turtle is moved into its new home at Mote Marine Laboratory. From left: Zoomarine staff Élio A. Vicente, director of science and education, and Antonieta Nunes, veterinarian nurse and rehabilitation expert.
Johnny Vasco de Gama settles in for a little rest and relaxation in his new temporary home at Mote Marine Lab. Once medically cleared, Johnny will be released in southwest Florida waters.