Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle Dies

A cold-stunned female olive ridley sea turtle that arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend has died. 

Andrew Pittard found the turtle stranded on Sunset Beach near Fort Stevens State Park on Saturday morning while driving along the beach to look for glass floats. A long-time friend of Seaside Aquarium staff, Pittard reached out for directions on assisting the sea turtle. Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium immediately left to meet Pittard at Sunset Beach.

“When I arrived, Andrew helped me transfer the turtle to the Seaside Aquarium truck,” said Boothe. “I noticed right away that it was really active, but it was pretty red on the underside and had an injury on the front flipper. Given the waves this past week, I knew that it had gone through a really bad weather system to strand here.”

Oregon Coast Aquarium Curator of Fish and Invertebrates, Evonne Mochon-Collura, met Boothe halfway between Newport and Seaside to receive the turtle. Upon its arrival at the Aquarium, Mochon-Collura took the body temperature (54° F), administered fluids, and cleaned the wound. “The turtle appeared extremely emaciated, dehydrated, and had sunken eyes. There was a dime-sized hole in the front left flipper that contained necrotic tissue inside, so it must have been an older injury,” explained Mochon-Collura.

Aquarium staff took X-rays and ran a blood panel test the following morning, which did not reveal any immediate concerns. Mochon-Collura said “our main concern was that this animal came in at the end of January. This tells us that the animal had likely been cold-stunned for some time due to exposure to cold Pacific northwest waters. This is in addition to what the turtle had to endure in last week’s storms and swells.”

Unfortunately, the turtle died very early Monday morning. Oregon State University will perform a necropsy to determine exact cause of death and for data collection. Oftentimes in long-term cold-stun cases, the organs are compromised beyond repair.

“Some animals can recover and survive the event, others simply can’t. But if the animal is left in the ocean or on the beach, it will die without question,” said Mochon-Collura. “That’s why I would say to the folks out there: It is still worth making the call and the effort. If there is even a slight chance of rehabilitation the Oregon Coast Aquarium will give it our best shot.”

The Oregon Coast Aquarium has been rehabilitating turtles for over a decade. Partnership with other organizations, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Seattle Aquarium and SeaWorld, also contributes to the development of triage technique and standardization of rehabilitation procedures. It is impossible to predict when sea turtles will strand and the exact causes. We are grateful for our staff and partners, like Mochon-Collura and Boothe, who always answer the call to help a stranded sea turtle. 

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.

Source: Oregon Coast Aquarium


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