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Olive Ridley Sea Turtles Strand on Central Oregon Coast, Then Die

Published 11/06/20 at 4:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles Strand on Central Oregon Coast, Then Die

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(Newport, Oregon) – It is once again the season for sea turtles to strand along the Washington and Oregon coast, a sad but simply natural phenomena that happens at the beginning of every winter. It’s often Olive Ridley turtles and Green turtles, but the occasional Loggerhead turtle shows up along the beaches of the northwest. (File photo of an Olive Ridley turtle - all photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe / Seaside Aquarium)

This time around, Oregon Coast Aquarium is reporting the strandings, both of which happened in the Lincoln City area. Ocean conditions often trick these southern-dwelling animals into following warm water currents up through Oregon and Washington, and then the currents run out, leaving them victim to hypothermia.

It is something to keep an eye out for, anywhere from Gold Beach, Winchester Bay, Newport, Seaside to Westport or La Push.

According to aquarium spokesperson Courtney Pace, the first incident happened in early October when a female Olive Ridley was found near Lincoln City. Oregon State Police picked it up and transported it to the aquarium in Newport, where it passed away hours later. The turtle was weak and cold-stunned, which is typical for stranded turtles.

The second, also a female Olive Ridley, was found in Lincoln City this week and picked up by the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, then brought to the aquarium where it also died shortly thereafter.

“While the turtle showed no external injuries, it was severely emaciated and had a temperature of 58°F, which is hypothermic for Olive Ridley sea turtles,” Pace said. “An average healthy temperature would be around 75°F.”

Being cold-stunned is common in these cases, and most sea turtles found on northwest beaches are no longer alive. If they are they don’t last long. Pace said the effect is difficult to identify and resolve, and it can lead to malnourishment, susceptibility to external injuries, and organ damage.

Pace said turtles may not make it back to warmer waters in time as they migrate farther south.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium said they also get lost looking for food. That aquarium up north deals with quite a few each year, in the area from Rockaway Beach up through the southern Washington’s 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.”

The goal in each stranding incident is to nurse the sea turtle back to health and release it back into the wild farther south. However, most don’t live beyond a few hours and triage efforts can do little.

If you find a sea turtle on the beach, immediately note its location, remain nearby to observe it, and contact the Oregon State Police Tipline at 800-452-7888 or the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN) in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114. Oregon Coast Hotels in these areas - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

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