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Stranded, Hypothermic Sea Turtle Sent to Recover at Oregon Coast Aquarium

Updated 11/25/2017 at 4:25 PM PDT - Updated 11/25/2017 at 4:27 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Stranded, Injured Sea Turtle Sent to Recover at Oregon Coast Aquarium

(Seaside, Oregon) – An Olive Ridley sea turtle was recovered from a beach on the southern Washington coast this week and brought down to the Seaside Aquarium for some first aid, after which it was sent to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport for rehabilitation. Hypothermic and possibility injured, the 50-pound turtle was cold and skinny but alert. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Tiffany Boothe from Seaside Aquarium said she and other crew from the Seaside Aquarium responded to the call at Benson Beach, near Cape Disappointment on Wednesday. They took it back to their facility and warmed it up as they waited for wildlife officials to come and transport it to Newport.

“She is very tired,” Boothe said on Wednesday. “Unbeknownst to most, during the winter, cold-shocked sea turtles can become stranded on our beaches. Reports of stranded turtles can begin as early as mid-October and can continue through January.”

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The turtle was discovered by Chad and Mickey Heidt of Beaverton, Oregon, who were camping at Cape Disappointment State Park. The sizable but helpless creature caused a stir on Seaside Aquarium's Facebook this week. One employee even set a small stuffed turtle next to it in an attempt to comfort it - or at least comfort page followers who felt sad for the turtle.

“We got her into a warmer environment and she perked up a little more,” Boothe said. “At the Oregon Coast Aquarium they will be able to examine her more closely and get her the help she needs. X-rays will be done to rule out internal injuries; coming in through the surf can be rough for these cold-stunned turtles.”

Sea turtles forage for food offshore, Boothe said, normally in warm water currents off the coast of California. Some weather patterns can temporarily push those currents farther north, but they often suddenly dissipate, giving way to the colder waters of Oregon and Washington. Then the turtles find themselves trapped in these frigid ocean currents.

“When this happens, their bodies slow down and they become hypothermic,” Boothe said. “Those that can make it to shore 'haul' out to get out of the cold water, but the winter conditions on the beach are rarely more hospitable.”

Once they are found on the beach, it's frequently difficult to tell if the sea turtle is dead or alive. Extreme hypothermia can make for a turtle that's unresponsive to touch and a heartbeat so slow and weak it's difficult to detect.

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“Most sea turtles found on Oregon and Washington shores do not survive, even if found and recovered quickly,” Boothe said. “Those that do live are taken to one of two licensed rehab facilities on the Northwest coast; the Oregon Coast Aquarium or the Seattle Aquarium. When stabilized (which, if successful, can take up to a few weeks), the turtle is transferred to a center in California, where it will be released back into the wild.”

After receiving the turtle around 12:30 a.m. on Friday morning, Oregon Coast Aquarium staff evaluated her condition, administered fluids, and performed a blood draw. Initial exams show the turtle is extremely emaciated and had likely been buoyant for an extended amount of time. Her temperature was 59° Fahrenheit, which is well below the standard temperature of 75°.

Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said it's not uncommon to see Olive Ridley turtles on the beach right about now. If you see one, do not move it or transport it yourself. Instead, call Oregon State Police Tipline at 800-452-7888 or the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114.

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