An Unusual Love Story Between Two Cairns Sea Turtles

picture of sea turtle release
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Betty and Barney, two of the resident sea turtles at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island, have been released back into the ocean together after spending two years in the same tank.

romance blossoms

Betty and Barney are not like other sea turtles. They have formed an undeniable bond that marine biologist Jennie Gilbert says she has never seen before between sea turtles.

“When we used to put Betty and Barney back into their tank after being separated from each other while their tank was cleaned, they weren’t interested in eating at all, instead all they wanted to do was touch each other. They would literally face each other, kissing and touching flippers,” Jennie laughs.

So it is no surprise these two lovebirds have made quite an impression on everyone at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

betty & barney’s rescue

Betty was brought into the rehabilitation centre first, almost three years ago, after being found upside down in the mudflats near Kurrimine Beach suffering from starvation.

Barney was later rescued from Trinity Inlet in Cairns suffering from starvation. He was paired with another male turtle for a while but when the other turtle died, Barney went off his food and seemed to be depressed so Jennie put Betty in the tank with him to keep him company.

However according to Jennie, it wasn’t love at first sight. For the first few months of being in the same tank, Betty was pretty mean to Barney but after a while she clearly fell for his charm.

Now two years later after being rehabilitated by Jennie and her team of volunteers, it was finally time to release the loved up Cairns sea turtles back out to sea after they were given the all-clear.

swimming free

A large crowd gathered at Kurrimine Beach to cheer Betty and Barney off, although there were also a few tears as Jennie and the volunteers were a little sad to see them go.

Aboriginal DancersThe local Indigenous people gave their customary welcome to country with traditional aboriginal dancing and used the occasion to announce that turtle and dugong hunting will now officially be outlawed on their land.

Then after the official welcoming, the team of carers said their teary goodbyes before helping to carry Betty and Barney down to the water.

It was an emotional moment for everyone who knows the hard work and passion that these people put into rehabilitating sea turtles in Far North Queensland. For Jennie, it was especially emotional because Betty and Barney were always two of her favourites.

what next for betty & barney?

cairns sea turtles being releasedReleasing sea turtles back into the wild is bittersweet, as it is with any other animal. They are healthy and ready to go but you can’t help wondering what their fate will be. Will they manage to find enough food? Will they avoid being hunted?

And, for Betty and Barney, there’s an extra question: will they stick together?

Luckily they were both fitted with tracking devices so we will be able to find out how their story ends up. Certainly they got off to a positive start. Betty swam away from the beach first then stopped and waited for Barney to catch up. They put their flippers up in the air and then swam off together.

Since then the tracking data shows that they swam from Kurrimine Beach down to Mission Beach together and current tracking data shows them only six kilometres apart with one off Dunk Island and the other near Hinchinbrook Island.

It will be interesting to follow their progress.

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