loggerhead turtle
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 12, 2020 ·  4 min read

‘Incredible Journey’: Loggerhead Turtle, Released from 20 years in Captivity, Swims 37,000km to Australia

What’s the furthest distance you have ever swum? A few lengths of your neighbor’s pool? From one end of the swim area at camp to another?

There have been some people throughout history who have swum some pretty remarkable distances. American Sarah Thomas has swum across the English Channel four times. A team of six men completed a relay swim of 236 miles across the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Israel, and Veljko Rogošić holds the world record for the longest swim in open water without flippers, swimming 140 miles across the Adriatic sea.

Despite all of these incredible human achievements, nature always seems to find a way to remind us just how superior it is. Scientists are very excited about Yoshi the turtle, a 180 kg turtle who has swum 37 thousand kilometers from Cape Town, South Africa, to Australia [1].

Yoshi’s Start

Yoshi is a loggerhead turtle, which is a species of sea turtle named for its large head and powerful jaw. They are less likely to be hunted for their meat or shell as with other types of turtles but are accidentally captured in fishing gear, which is a significant problem for them [2].

Back in 1997, Yoshi was found by a Japanese fishing boat with a damaged shell. The crew contacted Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium, asking if they could come to retrieve the little turtle. 

“At the time, the aquarium had only been open for two years, so we did not really anticipate keeping sea turtles on display,” said aquarium chief executive Maryke Musson [1].

Everyone at the aquarium fell in love with the little turtle with a large personality, who taught them a lot of lessons about how to care for sea turtles. Gradually they began to receive more requests to care for injured turtles, and to date, the aquarium has rehabilitated and released more than six hundred sea turtles [1].

Read: A Century Later, Baby Tortoises Have Been Discovered Thriving On the Galapagos Island of Pinzon

The Two Oceans Aquarium

When Yoshi first arrived at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 1997, it was still brand-new. It is named for its location: the southern tip of Africa is the meeting point for the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, thus Two Oceans Aquarium [3].

The goal of the aquarium is to promote sustainability through environmental education and conservation. Their website states:

“Our awe-inspiring exhibits aim to encourage love, respect and understanding of our oceans so that people are motivated to take action for their future well-being and to use marine and other natural resources sustainably.” [4]

The Two Oceans Aquarium is a certified Diamond member of the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme, which indicates that they are continually striving to reduce the environmental impact of their activities, as well as reduce their impact on local communities [5]. 

In 2019 they were given the gold award in the “Best Responsible Attraction” category at the 2019 African Responsible Tourism Awards [5].

Yoshi’s Journey

Twenty years after her arrival at the Aquarium, it was finally Yoshi’s turn to return to the ocean. Aquarium staff prepared her for her release with an exercise regime, encouraging her to swim twenty-meter lengths. Two divers would be on either side of Yoshi’s exhibit, and she would swim back and forth between them for a little treat. They called it “Yoshi Tennis”.

“Early on, we actually trained her to feed on a target, because she quickly caught on that she was getting food from divers, so she actually started harassing anybody in her big exhibit,” said Musson. “So by training her on a target, it allowed us to do any sort of investigation, have a quick look at her, give her a health check up, and then of course get her to move around in the exhibit, chasing a target.” [1]

After eighteen months of training, staff fitted Yoshi with a satellite tag and released her into the ocean, thirty nautical miles off of Cape Town. The staff did not know which loggerhead population she had come from, so they had no idea where she was heading, but they have been following her journey very closely.

After spending the first year swimming up the west coast of Africa, Yoshi turned around and turned around and returned to Cape Town. She then began heading across the Indian Ocean toward Australia.

The Aquarium staff are very happy about this since she will be protected in Australia, there are lots of other sea turtles, and it appears as though there is lots of food as well. Scientists in Western Australia are very excited about Yoshi’s journey as well, believing that she might have hatched in Australia and is now returning home.

“This turtle spent 20 years in captivity and still, you put her in the water and she suddenly remembers she probably has something to do on the other side of the ocean and just starts crossing it,” said Sabrina Fossette, a research scientist from WA’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions [1].

Support for Yoshi

News of Yoshi’s incredible journey has been spreading around the world, and ocean-lovers everywhere have been following and celebrating her. She has been swimming around fifty kilometers a day, navigating plastic pollution, fishing gear, and vessels.

“We are incredibly proud of what she’s done and what she’s achieved thus far,” said Musson [1].

Scientists believe that this is the first recorded movement of a turtle from Africa to Australia.