'While we are pleased with their progress, the turtles' are still in a tenuous condition'
NEWPORT, Ore. - Two endangered sea turtles that washed up on the Oregon Coast in December are reaching key milestones set by the Oregon Coast Aquarium staff and veterinarians overseeing their care.
The olive ridley turtles - known as Thunder, an 82-pound female; and Lightning, a 48-pound female - were found hypothermic in the surf.
Both turtles reached their target body temperature of 75 F by late December.
"While we are pleased with their progress, the turtles' are still in a tenuous condition," said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Assistant Curator of Fishes and Invertebrates at the Aquarium. "As in any medical recovery, conditions are subject to change, but the turtles' behaviors are recorded day and night so we can act quickly when changes are observed."
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.
If Thunder and Lightning's recoveries are successful, they could be returned to their native waters off the Pacific Coast of Mexico as early as this autumn, aquarium staff said.
Lightning was found December 10 by a beachcomber who stayed with her for 2 hours until wildlife officials arrived on scene.
The turtle arrived at the Aquarium with badly damaged eyes but is showing signs of improvement..
"Lightning is eating enthusiastically and successfully tracking food with her right eye. Her left eye opened on January 3, and she tracked food with it too which was a pleasant surprise after her ultrasound in December," Mochon-Collura said.
Chris Wickliffe, doctor of veterinary medicine at Cascadia Equine Veterinary Clinic, brought mobile x-ray and ultrasound equipment to help the Aquarium assess Lightning's health, free of charge, aquarium staff said.
"We have the utmost appreciation for the veterinary community, and Oregonians as a whole, who have come together to help these animals in their time of need. Access to these specialized mobile diagnostic tools help us provide the best care possible," said Jim Burke, the Aquarium's Director of Animal Husbandry.
Wickliffe's findings helped Aquarium staff customize Lightning's eye care, according to the Aquarium.
Thunder was one of two turtles found on Northwest beaches on December 21. A male turtle found in southwest Washington succumbed to the cold.
Thunder's gastric systems started to function again as she warmed up. Last week she swallowed a piece of salmon, her first bite since she arrived at the Aquarium, staff said.
The Aquarium's staff offer her a variety of seafood and kelp several times a day, hoping to entice her appetite as she continues to heal.
What to do if you find a turtle on the beach
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.