Aquarium Staff Is “Guardedly Optimistic” About Sea Turtles

January 04, 2010

The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s effort to rehabilitate two stranded sea turtles continues, with improvement in both turtles, found on different beaches last November. An Olive Ridley sea turtle was found stranded on Agate Beach in Newport and a 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.

“We are on schedule for a mid to late January transfer to San Diego’s SeaWorld Turtle Rehabilitation Center,” said Jim Burke, Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry. “We will conduct more diagnostic tests to determine their levels of proteins and globulin, which are indicators of overall health.” Burke said the Olive Ridley sea turtle is no longer on fluids, but the Green sea turtle continues to receive supplemental fluids into her body cavity. Aquarium veterinary staff conducted x-rays to look for lung problems and nothing was found, but the Green sea turtle has a fracture in one of its flippers. “It’s too early to tell if either sea turtle has sustained permanent damage to its system as a result of the hypothermic condition they were in when we received them, but we are guardedly optimistic.”

The Oregon Coast Aquarium’s role in the sea turtles’ rehabilitation has been triage, urgent care and stabilization. When both turtles are stabilized they will be transported to the SeaWorld Turtle Rehabilitation Center where they will undergo further rehabilitation in larger warm water habitats similar to their natural habitat. 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.” said Burke. “These are both female turtles and if we can get them back into the wild it will benefit the endangered populations of sea turtles.”

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. The cost of caring for the sea turtles will be covered in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation.

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. 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.

Laura Todd, Field Supervisor, USFWS Coastal Oregon Field Office urges anyone who finds a sea turtle on the beach to contact the Oregon State Police Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-452-7888 to ensure appropriate transport and care of the animal.