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From the Archives: Wayward turtle returned to sea

Twenty-five years ago, a sea turtle nicknamed “Wrong Way Corrigan” was released offshore after nine months of rehabilitation at the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in Mission Bay. The 170-pound, warm-water turtle was flown to San Diego for rehabilitation after two fishermen rescued it in October 1996 at the frozen entrance to Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

Early reports indicated that Wrong Way Corrigan is headed in the right direction. Then he took a turn and headed north again.

It was last spotted 572 miles off the Oregon coast three months later. Then the satellite tracking device strapped to his shell went silent.

From The San Diego Union-Tribune, Saturday July 12, 1997:

The sea turtle, saved from freezing death, is finally headed for a warmer life

Free from Sea World, it will be tracked by the device on its back

The small craft headed west at full throttle until the shoreline was as small as an anthill — the signal for three men to slide their squished 180-pound cargo over the side. They watched as the sea swallowed him.

“Wrong Way Corrigan,” the sea turtle that took a wrong turn last year, headed right this time, south toward Mexican waters.

The saga of the strange turtle began nine months ago, when two fishermen found the warm-water sea turtle floating in the frozen inlet of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, half-frozen and starving.

A few phone calls found the turtle a temporary home at the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in Mission Bay. They flew him here and handed him over to Dr. Scott Eckert, a senior research biologist who specializes in turtles.

“He looked like a wet mop when he first arrived,” Eckert said.

Within days, as Corrigan’s body thawed, he warmed to his surroundings and became very curious to the aquarium staff.

“It was bittersweet,” Eckert said of yesterday’s release.

Endangered by overharvesting, this species served as the main ingredient for turtle soup, a popular item on restaurant menus during the 1950s and 60s.

That turned out to be an asset, Eckert said, because “rarely do people see a male eastern Pacific green sea turtle up close.” Females can be observed crawling up the beach to lay their eggs, but males do not follow the same schedule. Little is known about the comings and goings of males.

But all that may change, Eckert hopes. A satellite transmitter attached to the turtle’s shell should provide scientists with not only the turtle’s location but also other important data.

“If the electronics don’t break and the turtle doesn’t scratch the transmitter, we could get a stream of data through an array of sensors anywhere from six months to a year,” he said.

The blue sky transmitter is designed to send information about the depths and durations of the turtle’s dives and preferred water temperatures, scientist Hubbs said.

Eckert is president of the American Sea Turtle Recovery Group, created to help save the species from extinction. There are approximately 6,000 to 10,000 egg-laying females in the wild. The information gathered will help scientists develop a conservation and protection plan to halt the turtle’s population decline.

Sea World aquarists fed the turtle a daily diet of fish, squid, shrimp, vitamins and minerals. By March, Wrong Way had gained 40 pounds and regained health, but ocean temperatures were too cold to release it until yesterday.

These huge turtles usually roam the warm waters of the Pacific and range as far south as the equator.

This turtle was slapped with the name “Wrong Way Corrigan” when he ended up so far from home.

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