Turkey The Turtle Passes Away

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is saddened to announce the passing of Turkey despite strong staff efforts toward her recovery.

The extremely hypothermic and dehydrated female olive ridley sea turtle arrived at the Aquarium for rehabilitation on Thanksgiving. A couple found her stranded on Benson Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park a day earlier and promptly notified the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN). She was then transferred to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which is the only facility in Oregon authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide the specialized care sea turtles require.

Turkey’s condition remained guarded since her arrival on Thanksgiving. Over the last month and a half, staff worked tirelessly around the clock to monitor her condition, administer fluids, and slowly raise her internal temperature. Oregon Coast Aquarium Medical Aquarist, Tana Wellner, offered Turkey a variety of diet options up to three times per day over the course of the last few weeks in the hopes that she would eat solid food. Although Turkey would sometimes consume a small shrimp, her eating was inconsistent and kept staff cautious.

Wellner noted that Turkey’s disposition seemed to deteriorate further early last week when she stopped accepting food altogether and appeared especially lethargic. Although Aquarium staff tracked Turkey’s blood values and administered antibiotics throughout her stay here, she remained extremely immunocompromised. X-rays of her lungs indicated that a mass had recently developed in her lungs, which suggested that she was fighting off an infection such as pneumonia. She passed away on the evening of Monday, January 8.

A necropsy performed by Oregon State University confirmed that Turkey had a systemic bacterial infection as a result of a heavily suppressed immune system. Multiple organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA will utilize the necropsy results for future research on sea turtles.

Unfortunately, not all sea turtle rehabilitation cases end successfully. Cold-stunned sea turtles present a myriad of complications that are difficult to diagnose and can remain hidden for some time. Oregon Coast Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, Jim Burke, explained that “turtle processes are slow. The animals are slow to get sick and slow to recover. Turkey arrived in such bad shape that a mammal in the same condition would have died a long time ago.”

Although deeply disappointed by the loss of Turkey, Aquarium staff are encouraged by the teamwork demonstrated by multiple individuals and organizations in initiating her rescue on a holiday. Burke also emphasized that, although less common, “successful cases like that of Lightning and Solstice demonstrate that our efforts do have the potential to save lives and contribute to sea turtle conservation.” Lightning and Solstice are both olive ridley female sea turtles that were treated at the Aquarium before being released in southern California. Their movements are tracked on our website.

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.

The Aquarium is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information visit aquarium.org or call (541) 867-3474.


The Oregon Coast Aquarium creates unique and engaging experiences that connect you to the Oregon Coast and inspire ocean conservation. An accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution, this 501(c)3 non-profit organization is ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Visit us at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR. www.aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook.com/OregonCoastAquarium, or Twitter.com/OrCoastAquarium for the latest updates.

Information and photos provided by OCA