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Sea Turtle Stranding Season Again on Washington / Oregon Coast. Be on the Lookout

Published 11/25/23 a 6:35 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Sea Turtle Stranding Season Again on Washington / Oregon Coast. Be on the Lookout

(Seaside, Oregon) – Once again, stranded sea turtle season descends on the Oregon coast and even the Washington coast. It typically happens right about now on the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, and apparently the first stranded, sick sea turtle was discovered this week in Oregon. (Photo Seaside Aquarium)

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Seaside Aquarium wants to remind everyone that this means you should call authorities immediately if you see a stranded sea turtle. Local police or Oregon State Police are the best option, but not 911. If you're on the north Oregon coast or south Washington coast, getting hold of Seaside Aquarium at 503-738-6211 is the best option, if spotted during businesses hours.

Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium said reports of these cold-stunned creatures begin coming in as early as October, lasting through January or so. Much of the time, when they show up on the beaches of Oregon or Washington they're already dead. However, that can be a tricky thing, as when you find one - unless you're rather knowledgeable on the subject – it's really hard to tell if they're alive or not.

The three types most commonly found on these beaches are the loggerhead turtle, Pacific green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea).

The problem begins when sea turtles – which normally are from California southwards – accidentally make it too far north.

Rescuing a sea turtle on the north coast: Seaside Aquarium photo

“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.”

The problem happens when those warm currents suddenly shift along with weather patterns, and by this time they're far north into the Washington coast or Oregon coastline. The warm water dissipates and the cold-blooded reptiles are stranded in what is freezing water to them.

“Their bodily functions slow and they may become hypothermic,” Boothe said. “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.”

If a hypothermic turtle lands on the beach, it will likely be unresponsive. On top of that, its heartbeat can be so slow it's impossible to detect for the average person.

Sea turtle on Washington coast / Seaside Aquarium

Every once in awhile, these stranding stories have a good ending. Usually, however, the turtles do not survive their initial triage at the local aquariums that initially bring them in.

Boothe said you should call local authorities or the aquarium if you find one and do not try and put it back in the water. The faster that rescuers can get it off the beach, the better the chances for survival.

Once they are picked up, two major facilities in the Pacific Northwest are there to help.

“There are two licensed rehab facilities on the Northwest Coast: the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium,” Boothe said. “It can take multiple weeks for a turtle to stabilize from such trauma, if it recovers at all. 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.”

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Photos below Seaside Aquarium

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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