The gravely ill turtle, dubbed "Bruce," was found in the waters off the now decommissioned South Bay Power Plant in Chula Vista on Jan. 25, 2011.
But Bruce wasn't a stranger to San Diego Bay, said Dr. Tomoharu Eguchi with the Marine Turtle Ecology and Assessment Program. Bruce is among the 60 to 100 turtles calling San Diego Bay home.
For the past eight years, the Port of San Diego has provided funding that has helped the research team track the behavior of our local endangered Eastern Pacific Green Sea Turtle population.
The team first documented Bruce in the bay on December 3, 2009, weighing in at 322 pounds. He was captured a second time on January 6, 2011, and was 66 pounds thinner. By the time the team recaptured him on Jan. 25, they knew something was wrong.
"He was not moving much," Eguchi said. "That was an indication he wasn't doing too well. He was dehydrated and underweight."
In addition, he had visible scars on the belly of his shell, as well as scarring and damage to his flippers. Eguchi said Bruce was without a tail when they first encountered him in 2009.
"He's had it rough," said Eguchi.
The NOAA team always has a vet on call in case a sick turtle is found. Once the vet is consulted, the appropriate action can be taken. In this case, Bruce was transported straight to SeaWorld San Diego.
There, a team of vets found he had four pellets lodged in the bottom of his neck. Doctors suspect Bruce was shot while coming up for air, but they don't know when or where.
Bruce's story is an important one to the team of turtle researchers.
"These turtles are a part of our natural environment," Eguchi said.
The Port helped the Fisheries Service purchase more than $200,000 in Global Positioning Satellite technology, audio tags and data recorders, which are used to track the turtles' incredible journey.
SeaWorld veterinarians hope that Bruce will be well enough to be released into the bay by summer.
The months from October to April are the busiest when it comes to catching turtles for the team. Boarding boats and kayaks, the team sets up three nets throughout the bay around 8 a.m. The nets are then checked every 45 minutes.
When turtles are found, they are brought ashore, blood samples are taken and then they are tagged with a transmitter and released.
"When a turtle goes by with a small transmitter on it, it's emitting a sound. The submersible ultrasonic receivers (SURs) stationed around the bay pick up that signal," said Dr. Jeffrey Seminoff, Program Leader for the Marine Turtle, Ecology and Assessment Program. "Once every two to three months, we retrieve those SUR's, download the data and we can tell the date and time when the turtle has passed by that particular spot."
The Port has partnered with NOAA since 2002 as well as the U.S. Navy. The Navy monitors Central San Diego Bay, while a team from San Diego State University team monitors the North Bay.
Green sea turtles, along with all six other species of sea turtles, are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This means that they face a risk of extinction in the wild.