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Turkey the Rescued Turtle Passes Away at Oregon Coast Aquarium

Published 01/12/2018 at 4:30 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Turkey the Rescued Turtle Passes Away at Oregon Coast Aquarium

(Newport, Oregon) – Famed Turkey the Turtle, which was rescued from a Washington beach by Seaside Aquarium staff on Thanksgiving, died Monday in the midst of rehabilitation efforts by the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. (Photo above: Turkey, just after rescue - courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

The extremely hypothermic and dehydrated female olive ridley sea turtle arrived at the Aquarium for rehabilitation on Thanksgiving. A couple found her stranded on Benson Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park a day earlier and promptly notified the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN). Crews from Seaside Aquarium took her off the beach, gave her some emergency care, and then she was transferred to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which is the only facility in Oregon authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide the specialized care sea turtles require.

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Named Turkey because she was found on Thanksgiving, aquarium staff said her condition remained guarded since her arrival. In that month and a half period, staff worked around the clock to monitor her condition, administer fluids, and slowly raise her internal temperature. Oregon Coast Aquarium's Medical Aquarist, Tana Wellner, offered the turtle a variety of dietary options in the hopes she would begin taking in solid foods. Occasionally, Turkey would eat small shrimp, but her consumption was inconsistent and caused staff to remain cautious.

Over the last month and a half, staff worked tirelessly around the clock to monitor her condition, administer fluids, and slowly raise her internal temperature. Oregon Coast Aquarium Medical Aquarist, Tana Wellner, offered Turkey a variety of diet options up to three times per day over the course of the last few weeks in the hopes that she would eat solid food. Although Turkey would sometimes consume a small shrimp, her eating was inconsistent and this kept staff cautious.

The Olive Ridley turtle's condition kept deteriorating over recent weeks, according to Wellner, and last week she stopped accepting food altogether, even becoming increasingly lethargic. Aquarium staff consistently tracked Turkey's blood values and administered antibiotics during her stay at the Newport facility, yet her immune system remained compromised. X-rays of her lungs indicated that a mass had recently developed in her lungs, which suggested that she was fighting off an infection such as pneumonia.

A necropsy performed by Oregon State University confirmed that Turkey had a systemic bacterial infection as a result of a heavily suppressed immune system. Multiple organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA will utilize the necropsy results for future research on sea turtles.

More often than not, turtle rehabilitation cases do not end well after they've been picked up from a beach stranding. Cold-stunned turtles will have a wide range of health issues, many of which can remain hidden for some time.

“Turtle processes are slow,” said Oregon Coast Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, Jim Burke. “The animals are slow to get sick and slow to recover. Turkey arrived in such bad shape that a mammal in the same condition would have died a long time ago.”

In fact, another turtle rescued from the beaches by Seaside Aquarium around the same time died within a few days after being transported to Newport.

Sea turtles are not found on Oregon or Washington beaches unless stranded. The Aquarium typically sees these extremely sick turtles in the winter, possibly due to the cold water temperatures, changing currents, and high frequency of harsh storms that wash the hypothermic turtles ashore. 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 in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114.

The Aquarium is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information visit aquarium.org or call (541) 867-3474. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours. More of Turkey the Olive Ridley turtle below, courtesy Seaside Aquarium:

Oregon Coast Lodging




More turtle rescues below, courtesy Seaside Aquarium





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