Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman / AP
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 | 6:02 p.m.
MARATHON, Fla. — A 320-pound green sea turtle is set for a Thursday trip from the Florida Keys to a glitzy Las Vegas resort's huge aquarium via FedEx.
For almost five years, the turtle has been cared for in the Turtle Hospital's 100,000-gallon tidal rehabilitation pool.
The reptile cannot be released due to an irreparable collapsed lung discovered during an endoscopy performed by the hospital's veterinarian several years ago. The lung defect, likely caused by an infection, caused the turtle to float on its side.
To compensate, hospital officials used marine epoxy to fasten weights to the turtle's shell so the reptile can submerge and swim level. But every 12 to 18 months, because of shell growth, the weights shed off the turtle and need to be reattached.
Earlier this year, hospital staff began the search for a new home for OD, named for the Ocean Diver, a dive charter boat that rescued and carried it to shore after it was found floating off Key Largo in August 2008.
"We wanted to give OD a permanent home that offered a larger habitat with diverse marine life," said Bette Zirkelbach, the hospital's manager. "We also need to free up our rehab pool to treat more turtles."
Officials at the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay Resort in Vegas responded to the hospital's request to provide a permanent home. The facility features a 1.3-million-gallon exhibition saltwater aquarium that is 22 feet deep and emulates an active reef with areas for its inhabitants to swim, rest and surface.
Estimated to be 50 years old, OD is to be quarantined for some 45 days before being placed in the main exhibition tank that has viewing windows and a walkthrough acrylic tunnel.
Wednesday, hospital officials examined OD one last time to ensure it is fit for the 2,400-mile trip.
FedEx is providing the flight for free and letting Zirkelbach and hospital founder Richie Moretti travel with the turtle to monitor it.
Green sea turtles can live for up to 100 years, said Zirkelbach, adding that OD's life in Vegas will provide additional opportunities to educate the public about endangered green sea turtles.