A fisherman spotted and recorded a sea turtle in the San Joaquin River, the creature languidly swimming slowly many miles from its usual ocean habitat.
Dan Maloon, 34, put down his fishing pole and pointed his cellphone at the turtle, capturing the turtle on video as it swam along shore in front of him.
(Editor’s note: The following YouTube video of the turtle swimming contains a swear word)
Maloon, a Turlock-area resident, was fishing for “anything that wanted to bite” in Lathrop near Mossdale Landing Community Park as he waited around noon Friday before picking his daughters up from school on an early day.
“I looked to the right and thought I saw a white plastic bag floating,” he said. “It caught my attention because the current was flowing the other way.”
When the object got a little closer he could see flippers moving.
“Then I could see it was a 3-foot-long turtle swimming in the San Joaquin River,” Maloon said. “That is something you just don’t see unless you are in Hawaii or watching Animal Planet on television.”
Maloon, who sharpens custom knives for a living, posted the video on YouTube. He said that people are amazed that the turtle was so far from the ocean.
“I’ve seen beavers, otters and whatnot on the San Joaquin, but nothing like this,” he said. “I’ve now heard the ‘Nemo’ jokes and less tasteful jokes about turtle soup. Somehow that thing needs to be turned around and head the other way.”
Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network in Marin County, said that the Eastern Pacific green sea turtle photographed by Maloon is far from home. The closest significant nesting location for the endangered turtle is in central Mexico on the Pacific Coast.
“This animal looked healthy in the video and not injured,” said Steiner, a wildlife biologist. “He was thousands of miles out of its normal range.”
Occasionally, sea turtles can be found around the mouths of rivers where they empty into bays or oceans. But the San Joaquin turtle was 80 miles from the ocean.
Steiner said that biologists are noticing warm-water animals farther north because of El Niño weather phenomenon and The Blob, a large mass of warm water in the Pacific. However, the turtle in Lathrop could simply be a very confused animal.
Green sea turtles are omnivorous but primarily vegetarian as adults. They have small heads without big, strong jaws that other sea turtles possess to crack shellfish.
The prognosis is not good for the wandering sea turtle unless it heads back south. Steiner said the turtle will suffer hypothermia and die unless it is rescued.
Some people are out looking for the turtle, said Steiner, who has alerted the National Marine Fisheries Service of the turtle’s existence.