PO‘IPU — The community assistance and teamwork involved in helping a large injured sea turtle is always a fairly big undertaking, states a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration social media post on the recovery and release of a honu named Betty KA18.
“Of course, during a pandemic, the obstacles can become even larger,” NOAA said. “The story of this one turtle’s healing journey and its second chance back in our island’s waters is a great example of three islands and many partners working together to make good things happen during a very challenging time.”
Betty KA18 got her name from several different sources.
“She was a female,” said Chris Jordan, one of the early rescuers of the honu. “She was named after my mom, Betty.”
The KA18 portion was tagged on by the Maui Ocean Center Marine
Institute following weeks of intensive recovery medical care and treatment.
“Two types of tags were used: mototool, or shell etching, and Passive Integrator Transponder tagging,” the MOCMI report states. “To mototool tag, MOCMI staff used a Dremel tool to safely etch the shell with the island’s initials, ‘KA,’ and the number of the stranding case that year, or the 18th stranding case for 2020.”
Betty KA18 was flown back to Kaua‘i from Maui on Oct. 30 following a recovery period that started with her first sighting of trouble on Sept. 8.
At the release, where Betty KA18 was so excited to sense the open water, she haphazardly jumped out of the blue tarp that was being used to move her to the water by the team that included Jamie Thornton of the NOAA Fisheries Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Program, Dr. Mimi Olry, Heather Ylitalo-Ward, and Aaron Swink of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources team. She thumped her way to the water on her own accord.
Katie Rampen said her father had noticed the turtle for several days in the waters surrounding the Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor, in early September.
“I had asked my father’s caregiver, Chris Raymond, whom we could call to help the turtle,” Rampen said in an email to The Garden Island. “Chris Raymond does get the credit for calling the DAR to report we had an injured turtle. The doctor Chris Jordan (and Dr. Elaine Kubota) called after that, and I know he was very instrumental in all of this as well. It takes a village!”
The MOCMI report claims that Dr. Kubota observed a turtle swimming abnormally in Kukui‘ula Harbor, but the animal slowly returned to the ocean.
“When Elaine saw the turtles later that day, I thought it was entangled with fishing line,” said Jordan. “I grabbed a knife and swam out, prepared to slash away at the lines. But instead, there was an abscess as big as a soccer ball that kept the turtle from moving its right flipper.”
At that point, Dr. Kubota was able to reach Dr. Olry, the DAR Protected Species Program Biologist, who was working in the area. The turtle was rescued and shipped by air to O‘ahu for treatment by NOAA contract veterinarian Dr. Gregg Levine.
Following assessment, the wound appeared to have come from a boat strike rather than entanglement, and Betty KA18 was moved to the MOCMI for treatment and rehabilitation that eventually led to the honu’s release at Po‘ipu.
A few days following its release at the Po‘ipu Beach keiki pond, Betty KA18 was photographed by Rampen after rejoining the group of turtles that come ashore at the Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor.
Despite the pandemic, the NOAA continues to perform these types of work that impact marine mammal and sea turtle stranding responses. It encourages the public to continue reporting all marine wildlife stranding incidents to its statewide hotline at 888-256-9840.