An endangered leatherback turtle had been stranded on the mudflats of the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia for at least two or three days, and it wasn’t expected to live.
The Canadian Sea Turtle Network said in a blog post that the turtle was being pounded by the tidal waters, and that concerned members of the public sent them photos showing a “turtle, baking in hot sun, its shell—usually a rich inky blue—dried to an almost steely grey.”
But help was on its way. On Wednesday afternoon, the Stewiacke Volunteer Fire Department teamed up with the Canadian Sea Turtle Network to rescue the turtle from the mouth of the Stewiacke River.
“This turtle was far away from its home in the ocean and was not going to survive the tidal waters,” the department said in a Facebook post.
“Thankfully we were able to use our boat and deploy at low tide to find the turtle who seemed a bit disoriented on a sandbar that had appeared,” it added.
Deputy chief of the Stewiacke Volunteer Fire Department, Brandon Verboom, said that at first they thought about trying to encourage the turtle to move on its own or to try and tow it with their boats, but the weight of the turtle made both options difficult.
According to the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, the turtle weighed somewhere between 600 and 1,000 pounds.
After some deep thinking, the fire department teamed up with the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Brookfield Fire & Emergency Services with the aim of airlifting the turtle from the sandbar.
With the help of a helicopter, the team was able to lift the turtle, truck it away in a waiting trailer and then set it back into the ocean where it can find its way back home.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this … It was kind of reassuring. It’s just kind of a positive story, which is really nice. And you don’t always get those in our line of work,” said Verboom to Global News.
At this time of year, the Canadian Sea Turtle Network said “leatherbacks are typically feeding on jellyfish off the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, up along the south coast of Newfoundland, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.”
The network also said these endangered turtles are only occasionally found in the Bay of Fundy.
In almost 25 years of working with them, the network said there is only one other occasion—in August of 2012—when a leatherback was found in the Shubenacadie River.
“That turtle was barely alive when residents reported it, and it died hours later,” the Network added.
Thankfully this turtle did not meet the same fate and has been named “Stewie” after the Stewiacke Fire Department.