Turtle Patient 199: Shara, Adult Female Olive Ridley

Turtle patient Shara in the tank at the rescue centre, looking curious. Image.

Shara was found floating and unable to dive despite her many attempts in South Ari Atoll. With the help of the staff of Maafushivaru’s dive centre, this big girl was rescued and transported to our Marine Turtle Rescue Centre.

The Vitals

Intake Date: 15 January 2023
Patient Number: 199
Rescue Location: South Ari Atoll
Reason: Found floating
Transport Method: Seaplane & Speedboat
Status: Tagged and released 1 July 2023

Species: Olive ridley
Scientific Name: Lepidochelys olivacea
Sex: Female
Age: Adult
Length: 63 cm
Weight: 22.2 kg

Shara’s Journey

Tag Deployed: 30 June 2023
Tagged Turtle #: 3
Date Released: 1 July 2023
Release Location: Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
Release Region: Baa Atoll, Maldives

Travel Direction: East – northeast
Total Distance Travelled: 6,300 km
Est. Average Speed Per Hour: 1.13 km
Average Daily Distance: 27.2 km
Deepest Dive: 276-300 m

The Adoptive Parents

Shara has kindly been adopted by for Vincent by Anne Carey, by Kris Zimmerman, Laura Hiscock, Christian, for Petra by Jannis Gehrlein, for Ian by Kathrine Shelton, by Jeffrey D. Moir, by Kim Partyka, for Chiara by Francesca, by Katrin Gläsmann, for Thomas by Katrin, for Ronald & Kathy by Murray Goodman, by Gabriela Schänzle, by John & Heather, for Amelia by Spencer Schoenberg, by Steven, Shara, Halei, & Sophia, for Jens by Marina, by Evan Strat, for Stephen by Amy Leow, by Rachel Rehberg, and for Marcin by Ola.

Shara’s Story

Upon arrival, Shara did not have any obvious external injuries so we did some imaging to get a better idea of her condition. Her X-rays showed signs of drowning and pneumonia (a secondary lung infection). They also showed an abnormal accumulation of material in her stomach and excessive gas build up in her lower intestinal tract, which is preventing her from diving.

Her blood work however is not critical although she has an infection, which we will treat her for. She is currently receiving fluid therapy, antibiotics, analgesia and multivitamins. We will soon be performing further diagnostics pending on her progress in the next few days.

12 February 2023
Shara was started on therapy and pain relieve and after some days she passed different types of plastic in her faeces (from styrofoam to rubber). After that, she started feeling better and began eating. She has now a voracious appetite and is much brighter. However, she is still buoyant and thus we are starting her on an adapted feeding scheme to motivate her to dive down since she is very food orientated.

12 March 2023
Shara has been diving down for her food although not very graciously yet. We started her on a weight therapy this past week to promote a more physiological body position and hopefully help her improve her diving abilities. The injuries on her flippers are much improved and she is now off all medications as well.

9 April 2023
Shara has been improving her diving skills! The Targeted External Weight Therapy she has been on for the past weeks has really been helping her to adapt to a more physiological position in the water and to rewire her brain as to how diving works. Given she has a voracious appetite we use feeding sessions to train her diving abilities.

1 May 2023
Shara has been responding really well to the targeted external weight therapy we placed on her last month. She no longer requires a lateral weight as she has learned how to stay central in the water and has been improving her diving skills. Shara is now able to spend most of her day submerged!

13 June 2023
Shara is now in the final stages of rehab! She has finished all therapies, has been resting at the bottom without any assistance and swimming happily around her tank with no difficulty. Her last set of blood work and X-rays were also clear, so we are just giving her enough time to ensure that her behavioural issues are completely sorted before we release her back into the ocean.

29 June 2023
Shara had her last round of blood work and X-rays today. All exams returned normal and since her buoyancy control has been perfect she has been deemed fit for release! Shara will be our first turtle of the year to be fitted with a satellite track, and with her we will be resuming our ORPTrack initiative. We are very excited to follow her journey once she’s back in the ocean.

1 July 2023
Shara was our first turtle of the year to be fitted with a satellite tracker. This will allow us to follow her movements as she travels through the Indian Ocean. Tagged and ready, Shara was released from the beach at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu. 

19 July 2023
Shara wasted no time leaving Baa Atoll and the Maldives! Since her release, she has made great strides straight east into the Indian Ocean. Based on the data that has come back, it does not appear that Shara has had any periods where she is simply foraging or searching for food; it really does look like she has places to be and is heading straight for them.

31 August 2023
Shara has been travelling for 57 days now, continuing in an eastward direction. She made a brief stop in the Laccadive Sea where she was seen circling for a while at a much slower speed, and was even diving quite a bit. A conservative conclusion could be that she was spending some time foraging in that area. Once she was done there, she continued her travels east and northeast around the coast of Sri Lanka and towards the Bay of Bengal. A previous genetic study has shown that a large portion of the olive ridleys we find entangled in the Maldives belong to the nesting population along the coast of India. Maybe Shara is heading back there?

By now, Shara has travelled 1,861 km, covering about 32 km per day since her release. Her average speed was recorded at 1.36 km/hr. Shara continues to dive between stretches of swimming in shallow water, spending most of her time above 40 m, with several more dives down to 300 m.

24th September 2023
Shara has now covered a total distance of 2,367 kms and travelled all the way to the Bay of Bengal, where she seems to have slowed down. We are conducting further analysis to understand if this indicates that she has arrived in a foraging area.

17 October 2023
As of her 16th week since release, Shara has traversed an impressive 3,200 km, at an average daily travel distance of 28.37 km. Upon reaching Bay of Bengal, she appeared to be circling in one place for a while. However, she is now moving north. It is possible that Shara is following a pattern of swimming until she encounters good feeding grounds, where she forages for a while before moving onto the next spot. Trying to infer behaviour like this from satellite tag data is really just guess work, but in-depth analyses with more sophisticated models will give us a better idea. More on this another time!

30 November 2023
Shara has completed almost 150 days of journeying and covered a distance of about 3,800 kms! She is still spending time in the Bay of Bengal, maintaining an average speed of 1.10 km/hr. Shara first swam in a loop towards the southwest, but she is now moving north, coming ever closer to the east coast of India. We are excited to see if she continues her swimming pattern in the open ocean or if she will actually approach the coast. The nearest coast to Shara is Odisha, a location famous for arribadas (mass olive ridley turtle nesting events), which normally occur in February and March.

26 January 2024
Shara has travelled a whopping 1,000 kms in the last four weeks. She once again approached the coast of India, this time near Amalapuram in the state of Andhra Pradesh. She then circled back out to the sea in two large loops. However, all this while, Shara maintained a minimum distance of 18 kms to the coast. After this, she travelled south again for over 500 kms,and is now approximately 300 kms off the coast of Puducherry city in Tamil Nadu. 

Shara’s offshore movements show that olive ridley turtles are a typical pelagic species, associated with open and rather deep oceans. Shara is diving regularly to depths of 90-130 m, and on one occasion, she even dove down to 201-225 m. We have now followed her journey for a total of 5,834 kms over 205 days and counting. While we continue to monitor Shara, back at the Rescue Centre, we are preparing for the release of more satellite tagged turtles in the future. 

29 February 2024
Shara’s tag stopped transmitting data on 16th February after she swam about 420 kms towards India’s east coast. It is likely that her satellite tag has fallen off, and hence is not relaying any new locations. It is entirely possible that Shara is continuing to swim as a happy and healthy turtle in the Bay of Bengal.

While we are disappointed that we won’t be able to follow Shara anymore, her satellite tag had an excellent run and that is worth celebrating! Shara was released on 1st July 2023 from our Rescue Centre in Baa Atoll. Since then, she transmitted data for a whopping 230 days (or almost 33 weeks) – that’s nearly two-thirds of a whole year! In this time period, Shara travelled a staggering 6,300 kms, moving at a steady pace of about 1.13 km/hr and covering 27.2 km/day on average.

Shara’s data confirms that olive ridley turtles in the Indian Ocean are a pelagic species. While her dives averaged out at 32 m, Shara was recorded going deeper into the ocean, reaching maximum depths of 276 – 300 m. Shara’s diving behaviour shows that deep ocean habitats are an important part of adult olive ridleys’ lives in the Indian ocean.

The data we have received from Shara will supplement our research on uncovering important olive ridley habitats in the Indian Ocean, and guiding conservation policy towards the protection of these areas. This year, we plan to release more satellite tagged sea turtles to further our research and fill knowledge gaps.