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Warm Currents Fool and Kill Another Sea Turtle on N. Oregon Coast

Published 01/08/2020 at 3:05 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Warm Currents Fool and Kill Another Sea Turtle on N. Oregon Coast

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(Seaside, Oregon) – A sad sight that occurs every winter on the north Oregon coast is the run of sea turtles that start showing up on beaches, either deceased or close to death. Warm currents periodically run farther north than usual and then dissipate abruptly, and some warm-water species like turtles can get fooled by this and suddenly find themselves in colder waters that are deadly to them. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

In the case of one found Tuesday near Gearhart, that one was already dead.

The sea turtle turned out to be a Loggerhead turtle, though at first Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe reported it to be a Green turtle.

Crews from the aquarium received the call around 11:30 a.m., and when they arrived at Sunset Beach near Gearhart they found a deceased 30-pound sea turtle, and it had likely died long before washing ashore.

“Though there was a small amount of netting found wrapped around its left flipper the cause of death is currently unknown,” Boothe said. “A necropsy will be preformed at a later date to determine the cause of death.”

Boothe said no one could be certain if the netting had something directly to do with its death or not, but what is certain in these cases is that cold shock is likely the main factor.

“With the current weather patterns it would not be unusual for more sea turtles to show up on Oregon and Washington beaches,” Boothe said.

It’s something to keep an eye out for on both the Washington coast and Oregon coast.

“Sea turtles forage for food in an offshore warm-water current that originates much farther south,” Boothe said. “Certain weather patterns like prolonged southwest winds can drive that warm water farther north and closer to shore than usual. If this happens and then conditions suddenly change, the warm current dissipates, and the turtles find themselves trapped in the colder currents that run naturally along the Oregon and Washington coasts. Turtles like all reptiles are cold blooded, so this is a highly unfavorable situation for them. Their bodily functions slow and they may become hypothermic. Strong west winds can blow hypothermic sea turtles onto the beach, where they have a better chance of being found and taken to a rehabilitation facility.”

Boothe said turtles suffering from extreme hypothermia may be unresponsive to touch. Their heartbeats get so slow and weak it’s barely possible to detect them. When found along either coastline, authorities get the sea turtles to one of two licensed rehab facilities on the Pacific Northwest coastline: Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and Seattle Aquarium up north.

“It can take multiple weeks for a turtle to stabilize from such trauma, if it recovers at all,” Boothe said. “If it does indeed stabilize, the turtle is transferred to another rehab facility in California where it may continue its recovery. If all goes well, it's finally released back into the wild.”

Loggerheads inhabit all oceans, primarily in temperate water. They are named for their relatively large heads, which support powerful jaws and enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey, such as crabs and mollusks. Loggerheads are the most abundant species of sea turtle found in U.S. coastal waters. Like all sea turtles the loggerhead are protected in the U.S. and most countries worldwide.

In the Pacific Ocean they are found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile, however during the winter months loggerhead sea turtles migrate to tropical and subtropical waters.

So what do you do if you come across a sea turtle on the beach?

Boothe said either call the Seaside Aquarium at 503-738-6211, or call the local police.

“Report the location and condition of the turtle,” Boothe said. “The quicker a turtle gets reported, the quicker authorities are then able to get it off the beach.” More photos below:

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