Hypothermic Sea Turtles Find First Aid on Oregon Coast
(Newport, Oregon) – It was a case of cooperation between two facilities on the Oregon coast in order to save two sea turtles. Meanwhile, officials warn that the conditions that brought them onshore may bring others to regional beaches, and taking them anywhere but to authorities is illegal.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is now caring for two stranded sea turtles this week, after coming in from two different northwest beaches. The Seaside Aquarium assisted in the rescue of one. Both are females. One is a green sea turtle discovered on the Washington coast, and the other is an Olive Ridley sea turtle found stranded on Newport’s Agate Beach.
Oregon Coast Aquarium, which is designated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) to posses, rehabilitate and transport sea turtles, with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat.
Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, believes their strandings were a product of El Nino and the kinds of currents that happen with this system.
Burke said ocean conditions are causing these creatures to strand because of a mild El Nino that creates currents that trap them in the wrong temperature. The turtles may be following warm water, but those currents are surrounded by cold water.
“Once the warm water dissipates, they become hypothermic and go into a hibernation-like state, called brumation, and they can no longer navigate or survive,” Burke said.
Burke said reptiles can slow their metabolism, which allows a window of time when they can be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released.
The Olive Ridley sea turtle – known as Lepidochelys olivacea – is named for the green color of its shell, which is heart-shaped. It is one of the smallest species of sea turtle.
The Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), is a large sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. Their common name derives from the green fat underneath their shell.
All species of sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Burke said the turtles’ natural habitat has a temperature of about 70-85 degrees, but these poor critters wound up in water that was less than 50 degrees.
“The Olive Ridley is in relatively good shape right now,” Burke said. “His temperature is up and he is eating. The Green turtle is still cold and has a front flipper injury and we are bringing its temperature up slowly.”
Burke said husbandry staff is working closely with veterinarians to improve their health enough to transport them to a larger sea turtle rehabilitation facility - possibly at SeaWorld in San Diego. That facility will likely be the one to actually release them back into the wild.
The cost of caring for the sea turtles will be covered in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation.
The Green turtle was found stranded in the Long Beach, Washington area on Friday. Staff at Seaside Aquarium dealt with it for several hours after Sharnell Fee director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast brought the sea turtle in.
Tiffany Boothe, with the aquarium, said that once the turtle arrived at the Seaside Aquarium, staff there did what they could to make the turtle comfortable while they contacted the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which was already in the process of rehabbing the Ridley turtle.
“The turtle was in a state of severe hypothermia and very lethargic,” Boothe said. “They quickly responded and happily came up to Seaside to recover the sea turtle. The turtle found in Longbeach was 28 inches long, making it about 20 or so years old.”
An official from the US Fish and Wildlife Service said this may not be an isolated incident, and the public should be warned to contact authorities as taking the creature is illegal and subject to stiff penalties.
“More sea turtles could be found stranded on Oregon beaches given the current ocean conditions,” said Laura Todd, Field Supervisor, USFWS Coastal Oregon Field Office. Anyone that finds a sea turtle on the beach should contact the Oregon State Police Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-452-7888 to ensure appropriate transport and care of the animal.
Turtle strandings are rather rare, but one instance two years ago was rather stunning.
A loggerhead turtle came ashore in Gearhart in December of 2007 – the first spotted in five years before that.
Though loggerheads have been spotted as far north as Alaska they only come ashore in this region when distressed.
The aquarium's Boothe said the turtle wound up on shore after a particularly high surf event, but not necessarily because of that. In fact, his story is remarkably similar to the turtles this week. “We get a lot of big waves before a storm,” she said. “He probably followed a warm water current that dissipated, and then got hypothermia. He then found his way up here.”
Upcoming Oregon Coast Events
December 19 – 20. Porthole Players, Ltd presents: ''A Christmas Story.'' Friday & Saturday 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Newport Performing Arts Center. 777 West Olive Street. Newport, Oregon. 541-265-ARTS. www.portholeplayers.orgDecember 20. Gift of Music with Concert Rock Violinist Aaron Meyer. Canned food items are requested as entrance fee. Items will be donated to Lincoln City Food Pantry. Salishan Lodge, just S. of Lincoln City, Oregon. 541-764-2371.
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