A very mature 63-pound male olive ridley sea turtle stranded just south of Longview, Washington on December 20, followed by a mature 82-pound female of the same species near Del Rey Beach, just north of Gearhart, Oregon on December 21 were transported to the Oregon Coast Aquarium for treatment. With body temperatures of just 52 degrees Fahrenheit, far below the ideal of 75, the turtles were cold-shocked. At initial assessment, the male had sustained a wound to his head and was hypothermic. His responsiveness continued to slow, and despite the Aquarium staff’s best efforts, he passed away on December 23.
The female, now named Thunder, is showing progress and as of December 29 is swimming in a pool and her body temperature has climbed to 70 degrees. Thunder also passed waste this week, signaling that her digestive system is starting to function as her body temperature rises. Her transition to water on December 24 appeared to immediately calm her activity, but also confirmed that she has air trapped in her body that makes her buoyant.
Lightning continues to recover at the Aquarium. She reached her ideal 75 degree body temperature on December 23. The 48-pound turtle is now eating daily, and was spotted snoozing at the bottom of her pool – a sign that her own buoyancy issue is improving. “When Lightning is not napping, she is very active. She seems to have two speeds, stop and go. Thunder, in contrast, is a calm but very large presence in the room,” said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Assistant Curator of Fishes & Invertebrates who oversees the Aquarium’s rehabilitation of fishes, invertebrates and reptiles.
Despite Lightning’s and Thunder’s improvements, their prognosis remains guarded, and will at a minimum require months of rehabilitation before they are healthy enough to be released in their warmer, native waters. Olive ridley turtles from the Pacific coast of Mexico, where these turtles likely originated, are classified as endangered. The Oregon Coast Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium are the only rehabilitation facilities in the Pacific Northwest authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide the specialized care sea turtles require. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service urges anyone who finds a sea turtle on the beach to contact the Oregon State Police Wildlife Hotline at (800) 452-7888 to ensure appropriate transport and care of the animal.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is open every day this winter from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, visit aquarium.org or call 541-867-FISH. Information and photos provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium