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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 off the coast after nine months of rehabilitation at Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute on Mission Bay. The 170-pound, warm-water turtle was brought to San Diego for rehabilitation after two fishermen rescued him in October 1996 at the icy entrance of Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

Early reports showed Wrong Way Corrigan heading the right way. Then he took a turn and headed north again.

He was last spotted 572 miles off the Oregon coast three months later. Then the satellite monitoring device strapped to his shell fell silent.

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

Sea turtle, saved from icy death, finally is headed for warmer life

Set free by Sea World, it’ll be tracked by device on its back

The small boat headed west at full throttle until the coastline was as small as an anthill — the signal for three men to slip their squirming 180-pound cargo over the side. They watched as he was swallowed by the sea.

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

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

A couple of phone calls found the turtle a temporary home with the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in Mission Bay. He was flown here and turned over to Dr. Scott Eckert, a senior research biologist who specializes in turtles.

“It looked like a wet mop when it first arrived,” Eckert said.

Within days, as Corrigan’s body thawed, it warmed up to its surroundings and became very curious about the aquarium staff.

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

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

It turned out to be a he, a bonus, Eckert said, because “rarely do humans get a close look at a male eastern Pacific green sea turtle.” Females can be observed when they crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs, but males don’t keep the same schedule. Little is known of the males’ comings and goings.

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

“If the electronics don’t break down and if the turtle doesn’t scrape the transmitter off, we could receive a data stream through a series of sensors anywhere from six months to a year,” he said.

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

Eckert is chairman of the U.S. Recovery Team for Marine Turtles, formed to help save the species from extinction. There are approximately 6,000 to 10,000 egg-laying females left in the wild. Information collected will help scientists develop a conservation and protection plan to stop the turtle population’s 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 his health, but ocean temperatures were too cold to release it until yesterday.

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

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



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