NEWPORT — The Oregon Coast Aquarium announced Monday that the two olive ridley sea turtles that had arrived at their facilities last week had died over the weekend.
The first sea turtle to arrive was found stranded on the beach in Coos Bay and transported by state troopers after being alerted by a local resident. The female sea turtle was nicknamed “Donatello” by the aquarium’s social media followers and staff, due to her purple bandaging giving her a resemblance to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle of the same name. Donatello arrived at the facility with serious injuries and an extremely low body temperature: 46 degrees, which is 29 degrees lower than what’s expected of a healthy sea turtle.
On Saturday, aquarium staff reported that her x-rays, fecal tests and blood analyses were promising, with no sign of infection or parasites. However, additional testing showed that her kidneys were severely compromised and, despite the staff’s best efforts, she passed less than two days later.
It was also on Saturday that the second turtle was found by a couple of beachgoers at Beachside State Park in Waldport. After the aquarium and state park authorities were alerted, Oregon State Park Beach Ranger Doug Sestrich transported the 59-pound female reptile off the beach and up to the aquarium. The sea turtle arrived with an intact shell and no external bleeding, and her temperature registering at 50 degrees. She also passed soon after arriving at the facility.
“While she appeared physically intact, cold-stunning itself takes its toll on the turtle’s internal organs,” said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Oregon Coast Aquarium’s curator of fish and invertebrates. “As always with animals with sustained injuries, they have a lot of challenges through recovery. We submitted X-rays and blood samples for further analysis to determine her internal condition.”
Both turtles will undergo necropsies to determine the exact causes of their deaths. That information will be shared with various agencies in an effort to aid both research and education efforts around this endangered species.
“The two turtles that we admitted this week were olive ridley sea turtles from the Pacific breeding population native to Mexico,” said Sally Compton, communications and marketing manager at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “This population is listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act, while the globally the species is listed as Threatened. We also see green turtles and loggerhead sea turtles, both of which are listed as Threatened and Endangered depending on population locations.”
Sea turtles that wash up on Oregon and Washington beaches are always stranded and far from home, and often extremely sick when found in the winter. With the extreme weather conditions this week, it’s likely that more stranded turtles will wash up on Oregon’s beaches.
“We typically do expect to see more sea turtles stranding on our coast during heavy storms and hazardous surf,” said Compton. “These cold-stunned turtles are at the mercy of the ocean and surf, and the high tide washes them ashore leaving them stranded.”
However, Compton noted that with fewer people out on the beaches, it’s possible that most, if not all, of the turtles washing up in the next few days won’t be found. And even when they are found, it’s difficult and often fruitless work to nurse these reptiles back to health.
“We are drawn to animal care by a passion and with compassion so we gather our resources and energy when responding to a distressed animal, and we try everything within reason,” said Mochon-Collura told the News-Times. “However, we have to be realistic and know that some cases are too extreme to be reversed. We perform our work knowing that it may end with loss. It is always hard for us to lose an animal and even harder when we have to share the news with others whose optimism soared the moment they heard we were trying. We appreciate everyone’s support, trust and genuine interest and we will always do our best and communicate updates whether loss or success.”
In their announcement of the turtles’ passing, the aquarium reaffirmed their commitment to aiding distressed turtles: “While the odds of successfully rehabilitating stranded sea turtles are low, the Aquarium will continue efforts to save injured endangered species for the chance of boosting threatened wild populations.”
The aquarium took in and lost another turtle last year who arrived on, and was named after, Thanksgiving. However, in the fall of 2017, the aquarium successfully treated and released two female olive ridley sea turtles: Lightning and Solstice.
The aquarium advises those who do come upon a stranded sea turtle to immediately note its location, remain nearby to observe it and contact the Oregon State Police tip line at 800-452-7888 or the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in Oregon, Washington and California at 1-866-767-6114.