Rescued Sea Turtles Depart For San Diego

January 28, 2010

The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s role in rehabilitating two stranded sea turtles was completed January 28 as the turtles were picked up in Newport by a C-130 Hercules plane from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, and flown to San Diego. “Myrtle” and “Maude” will then be transferred to the SeaWorld Turtle Rehabilitation Center where they will complete rehabilitation and ideally, be released back into the wild.

Both turtles were found on different beaches last November. The Olive Ridley sea turtle was found stranded on Agate Beach in Newport and the Pacific Green sea turtle was discovered on the southern Washington coast. The turtles, both females, were transported to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which is designated by U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) to rehabilitate and transport sea turtles, with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat. The Olive Ridley sea turtle is listed as endangered and the Green sea turtle is threatened in Oregon.

“The Aquarium’s role in the sea turtles’ rehabilitation has been triage, urgent care and stabilization,” said Jim Burke, the Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “Ideally, once rehabilitation is complete, they will be released into their natural habitat. It has been a tremendous learning experience for new staff and a good refresher for experienced staff members. These are both female turtles, and if we can get them back into the wild, it will benefit the endangered populations of sea turtles.”

The Coast Guard air station was able to schedule transporting the turtles to coincide with a training flight. "This is a wonderful opportunity to work with a number of different agencies for a great cause," said Lt. Justin Cassell, a pilot from Air Station Sacramento. "The Coast Guard has eleven missions, one of which encompasses environmental protection. What better way to help the animals of the environment than to ensure they get where they need to be. The Coast Guard is honored to be able to take part in such an amazing mission."

“We pursued other methods of transporting the turtles to San Diego, but were concerned about exposing the turtles to any cold conditions,” said Laura Todd, Field Supervisor, USFWS Coastal Oregon Field Office. “The Coast Guard offers the most efficient and safest conditions for this transfer.”

Burke attributes the sea turtles’ stranding to a mild El Nino, creating a situation where the turtles find themselves in warm water gyres, or pockets, surrounded by cold water. Once the warm water dissipates, they become hypothermic and go into a hibernation-like state, called brumation, and they can no longer navigate or survive. Burke said reptiles can slow their metabolism, which allows a window of time when they can be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released.

“Myrtle,” the Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), is one of the smallest species of sea turtle. It is named for the olive-green color of its heart-shaped shell. “Maude,” the Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), is a large sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. Their common name derives from the green fat underneath their shell. All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The cost of caring for the sea turtles will be covered in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation.