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Three Sea Turtles Rescued on Oregon Coast Beaches in Two Weeks (Video), One Dies

Published 11/06/22 at 4:39 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Sea Turtles Rescued on Oregon Coast Beaches in Two Weeks (Video), One Dies

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(Oregon Coast) – It is once again the season for cold-stunned sea turtles along the Oregon coast, and marine experts want beachgoers to keep an eye out for them. (Photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

Three stranded and injured sea turtles were found along the Oregon coast in the last two weeks, with the latest this week. One was found at Horsfall Beach near Coos Bay, a second was discovered a few days later at Newport's South Beach area, and the third was found at Warrenton near the Wreck of the Peter Iredale.

Both Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and the Seaside Aquarium played host to them.

The most recent, an Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), was found still alive, and lived long enough to be transported to the Seaside Aquarium for immediate care. As it was being transferred to the Seattle Aquarium for possible rehab, it died, according to the aquarium's Tiffany Boothe.

It is time to keep an eye out for sea turtles! An Olive Ridley sea turtle was found near the Peter Iredale in Fort Steven’s State Park located in Hammond, Oregon. The turtle was still alive when recovered by Seaside Aquarium but died shortly after being transferred to the Seattle Aquarium for possible rehab. This is the third sea turtle to come ashore in Oregon in the last couple weeks. When found on the beach, it can be difficult to determine if a sea turtle is dead or alive. A turtle suffering from extreme hypothermia can be unresponsive to touch and have a heartbeat so slow and weak that it is difficult to detect. Most sea turtles found on Oregon and Washington shores do not survive, even if found and recovered quickly. 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.

Posted by Seaside Aquarium on Friday, November 4, 2022

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) initially responded to the sea turtle near Coos Bay, moving it quickly to Florence, where it was then brought to Newport's aquarium. They dubbed her Pumpkin – a sub-adult female.

Just two days later, the turtle found at South Beach was brought straight to the aquarium. Another sub-adult female, this one received the nickname Joanie.

Dr. Julianne Vickstrom of West Hills Veterinary Hospital aided in performing X-rays and blood draws, providing staff with further insight on the animals’ conditions. Both turtles had a body temp of only ~55°F, while the healthy temperature is ~75°F.

Both were immersed in gradually warmer water each day, slowly bringing their temperatures up to normal. After two weeks, they were cleared for transport to SeaWorld San Diego. Turtles Fly Too made that possible: a non-profit organization that coordinates and facilitates the use of general aviation to transport endangered species and critical response teams.

"Joanie," at Oregon Coast Aquarium, courtesy photo

With custom-made crates, they made it to California, where they will be rehabilitated to be released into the wild.

These two had a happy ending, but those instances are rare with cold-stunned sea turtles on the Oregon coast or Washington coast. The Olive Ridley found on the north coast passed away, a much more common outcome.

“Essentially, sea turtles forage for food in an offshore, warm water current,” Boothe said. “Weather conditions (such as a long, constant string of south-southwesterly winds) can drive the warm water current (and therefore the turtles) further north and closer to shore than normal.”

Such weather conditions often change abruptly once they make it into Oregon or Washington waters, and the warm currents dissipate. Trapped in colder waters, their bodies slow down and they become hypothermic.

“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,” Boothe said.

Boothe said when they are found on the beach it can be difficult to tell if a sea turtle is dead or alive. They can be unresponsive to touch and have a heartbeat so slow and weak it s very difficult to discern.

If they make it beyond the urgent care phase, they are brought to either the aquarium in Newport or Seattle Aquarium. With more luck, they can be nursed completely back to health and released into warmer waters.

Both the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Boothe urged not to touch it or try to rescue it if you see one, as only experts are trained to deal with them. Do not attempt to put it back in the water.

Rather, you should notify Oregon State Police, Washington State Police, or your local marine mammal stranding network.

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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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