Last Update: 10/14/2013 12:27:00 PM
Disabled sea turtle released into new Vegas home
LAS VEGAS - A 320-pound disabled green sea turtle is now paddling around a Las Vegas Strip aquarium after an odyssey that included two sea rescues and a cross-country trip in a FedEx plane.
Officials at the Mandalay Bay casino said they released "OD" - short for "Ocean Diver" - into the main exhibition tank at The Shark Reef Aquarium on Monday, after he spent several weeks in quarantine adjusting to his new digs.
"We are honored to offer OD a permanent home and are committed to creating an enriching environment for his continued health," Shark Reef Aquarium Director Adrienne Rowland said in a statement.
OD's long journey to Las Vegas began in 1999, when he was found near Atlantic Beach, N.C., with a lung infection. After he recovered, he was tagged and released back into the ocean.
In August 2008, people aboard a chartered dive boat found him floating off Key Largo and plucked him out of the water. He ended up at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital, where a veterinarian performed an endoscopy and found he had an irreparable collapsed lung that caused him to float on his side.
To compensate, hospital officials used marine epoxy to fasten weights to OD's shell so the turtle can submerge and swim level. But every 12 to 18 months, because of shell growth, the weights shed off and need to be reattached.
OD can't be released into the wild because of the defect, so officials at the Turtle Hospital started looking for a permanent home for him earlier this year.
The Mandalay Bay offered to place him in its 1.3-million-gallon saltwater aquarium, which is 22 feet deep and emulates an active reef with areas for its inhabitants to swim, rest and surface.
FedEx provided a free flight for OD, who arrived in Las Vegas on July 25.
OD joins two other green sea turtles and 22 other species in The Shark Reef, including sharks, rays and fish.
Green sea turtles can live for up to 100 years, said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach, adding that OD's life in Vegas will provide additional opportunities to educate the public about endangered green sea turtles.