Rescued Turtles Will Be Heading South

ThunderThunder and Lightning, two distressed sea turtles that were rescued after winter storms in Oregon have been successfully treated by the Oregon Coast Aquarium. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to fly them back to warmer waters. The U.S. Coast Guard will airlift these vulnerable animals to southern California during a training mission. The endangered olive ridley sea turtles were found comatose, hypothermic and malnourished following two large storms that hit the Oregon coast in December.

“We at the Oregon Coast Aquarium are very proud to immediately provide expert critical care to these animals. The early triage and urgent care is so paramount to the stabilization of these imperiled species,” said Jim Burke, the Aquarium’s Director of Animal Husbandry. “We are hopeful for a safe release back into the wild where these two female turtles can reproduce and contribute to the rebound of the olive ridley sea turtle population.”

After Thunder and Lightning leave Newport, they will complete their rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego in preparation for release later this summer. “We’re very excited that SeaWorld will continue the rehabilitative care of Thunder and Lightning,” said Mike Price, SeaWorld San Diego’s assistant curator of fish. “It also great to work with a dedicated team from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and our friends at the Coast Guard as together we give these amazing sea turtles a second chance at life.”

As with most successfully recovered turtles, these turtles were saved thanks to conscientious members of the public, like Tim Ebarb who located Lightning in Bob Straub State Park. By immediately alerting authorities, these turtles were able to be quickly transported to the Oregon Coast Aquarium where specialized equipment and expertise provided the necessary critical care.

Two more turtles have been successfully treated by the Seattle Aquarium and the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada and will also be transported south in the coming weeks. At least six other sea turtles succumbed to the elements and stranded on Oregon, Washington, and northern California beaches this winter. Rapid response is the only hope of returning these large endangered animals to health.

The four turtles recovered in a single year is a record for the Pacific Northwest, and Thunder and Lightning are the fifth and sixth hypothermic sea turtles in six years to be successfully rehabilitated for release by the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Sea turtles do not reach the Oregon beaches unless injured or sick, and once stranded, they require immediate care to survive. If ocean conditions and weather patterns continue as they have the last couple of years, more turtles are expected to arrive in the future.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium are the only rehabilitation facilities in the northwest U.S. authorized by the Service to provide the specialized care sea turtles require. Care These facilities were at their maximum capacity with four turtles this year, so the Service is examining alternatives for increasing capacity. The U.S. Coast Guard is using this opportunity to train for other emergency situations that could involve small airports and passengers requiring critical care during the flight.

“Allowing our aircrews to transport a distressed sea turtle while accomplishing routine training makes this mission particularly satisfying.” said Commander Kevin Smith, the pilot in command. “The recovery of stranded turtles is always a group effort,” said Laura Todd, Newport Field Office Supervisor for the Service. “Reports from the public, emergency transport from the beach, intensive care at the treatment facilities, return to warmer waters, and eventual release are all crucial steps in the process. This work couldn’t be done without highly capable partners like the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Coast Guard, and SeaWorld.”

Such teamwork is the cornerstone of recovering any threatened or endangered species. Cooperation between the public, federal and state agencies and partner organizations are the hallmark of a successful conservation program and key to halting the decline of our sea turtle populations.

Anyone who sees a sea turtle should immediately note its location, remain nearby to observe it if possible 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 Oregon Coast Aquarium receives no on-going governmental support and relies on visitor-related revenues, grants, and donations to finance its annual operations, including its wildlife rehabilitation activities. Funding for these projects comes directly out of the money budgeted for the care of the Aquarium’s 15,000 marine animals. To help support the Aquarium’s rehabilitation efforts, please call (541) 867-4931.

Information and photos by Oregon Coast Aquarium