06 Jul 2022

The Flight of the Turtle - Stranded in Donegal in 2019, JC 'wings' his way back to Gran Canaria

The Flight of the Turtle - Stranded in Donegal in 2019, JC 'wings' his way back to Gran Canaria

A rare loggerhead sea turtle, that was found on a Donegal beach back in 2019 has returned to sunnier shores after a truly remarkable adventure.

His return, delayed because of Covid, is thanks to making a number of new friends after becoming marooned on the Emerald Isle over two and a half years ago.

Julius Caesar, better known as JC to his new buddies, was found washed up on a Donegal beach in January of that year when he was just nine months old.

The endangered species’ adventure manifested itself into an epic battle against the elements and mother nature when he got caught up in the wrong ocean current. JC was swept along the Gulf Stream, barely making it alive to Donegal.

Hypothermia had set in and stunned by the cold water, he weighed just a few hundred grams.

Discovered by a local family, JC was named for his fighting spirit and was brought to Exploris Aquarium, in Portaferry, Co Down.

JC is welcomed aboard by flight attendants

Before his departure earlier today, JC was recuperating in a tropical tank and enjoying a diet of fish mixture, squid and gel.

All of this was in preparation for his voyage to Tarifa Wildlife Recovery Centre (Centro de Recuperación de Fauna Silvestrede Tarifa) in Gran Canaria.

Covid-19 restrictions previously prevented the repatriation efforts but JC, now weighing 25kg, travelled south to the Canary Islands on Aer Lingus flight EI 782, captained by Peter Lumsden.

JC travelled in a specially designed waterproof crate, accompanied by his minder Portia Sampson, where he was warm, secure and monitored at all times.

Speaking on the repatriation, Captain Lumsden said: “It was our pleasure to welcome aboard a very special passenger and ensure the safe transportation of JC the Turtle to Gran Canaria. Since they first got in contact, Aer Lingus has worked closely with the team from Exploris Aquarium and our Maintenance & Engineering and Ground Operations teams to ensure that all JC’s needs are met as we complete this important mission.

“Keeping the turtle’s temperature above 19 degrees is critical to his wellbeing and he requires regular monitoring and shell lubrication so placing him in the aircraft hold was not an option. His specially designed crate will be securely strapped across a number of seats in the cabin.

Upon arrival in Gran Canaria, JC was placed under the care of veterinarian Pascual Calabuig of the Tarifa Wildlife Recovery Centre who will oversee his acclimatisation to the warmer weather and monitor his behaviour, feeding and physical condition before releasing JC back into the sea later this week.

Surprisingly, JC is not the first turtle that Aer Lingus has repatriated. Another rogue loggerhead turtle, Leona, was found in Co Clare in 2013 and transported to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria by Aer Lingus in December 2014.

Loggerhead turtles are a vulnerable and endangered species and their numbers are in decline in the wild. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) they are the living representatives of a group of reptiles that has existed on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years.

Loggerhead turtles are expected to reach 100kg by the time they become adults. Their natural habitat requires warm shores.

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