Rescued sea turtles Thunder & Lightning arrive for rehab in San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) - Two endangered olive ridley sea turtles found stranded and comatose along the northern Oregon coast in December were flown by the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday to San Diego to begin long-term rehabilitative care at SeaWorld.

The two female turtles, named Thunder and Lightning because they were each stranded after major winter storms, began their recovery at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and wildlife biologists hope to eventually return them to the wild, according to SeaWorld spokeswoman Kelly Terry.

They were flown aboard a C-130 Hercules cargo plane from Oregon to the U.S. Naval Base Coronado in San Diego, then transported by truck from there to SeaWorld’s animal rescue center nearby to undergo further treatment and rehabilitation.

Thunder, measuring 2-feet (60 cm) long and weighing about 80 pounds (36 kg), was mainly suffering from severe hypothermia when found near Pacific City, Oregon. Lightning, also 2 feet long and weighing about 50 pounds (23 kg), was suffering from hypothermia and several other problems, including injuries to both of her eyes, when she was rescued several days earlier, Terry said.

They joined a previously rescued olive ridley turtle, named Solstice, who was rescued more than a year ago in Oregon and turned over to SeaWorld for rehabilitation, Terry said.

“Turtle rehab is a long process,” she said.

Thunder and Lightning arrived bundled in special packaging, and after being weighed, they were placed together in their own heated saltwater pool, complete with a small underwater shelter at the bottom of the concrete enclosure, and were allowed to swim about their new home.

Olive ridleys, listed as an endangered species, range throughout the Pacific, but they occur mostly in tropical and subtropical regions of the ocean, generally venturing no farther north than Southern California along the U.S. Pacific Coast.

They have been known to occur in more temperate regions, including the relatively cold waters off Oregon and Washington state, but Terry said it was not known what brought Thunder and Lightning to the Pacific Northwest.

Reporting by Michael Blake in San Diego; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler