Endangered sea turtle found washed up on Oregon Coast

Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

PACIFIC CITY, Ore. - A beachcomber found an endangered sea turtle Thursday at dawn near Bob Straub State Park, the Oregon Coast Aquarium said.

The olive ridley sea turtle is now in intensive care at the Oregon Coast Aquarium's animal rehabilitation unit.

Kevin Clifford, the Oregon Coast Aquarium's Curator of Fishes & Invertebrates, and biologist Daniel Elbert of the US Fish & Wildlife Service headed north through Thursday's storm and its aftermath to assess the situation, according to the aquarium.

While still en route, they contacted Shawn Stephensen, a wildlife biologist for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, who was surveying geese near the State Park.

They asked Stephensen to get to the turtle as quickly as possible.

"The rising tide was quickly flooding beach access, and if Shawn had not collected the turtle when he did it might have been impossible to get it out," Elbert said.

Stephensen and thte turtle met Clifford and Elbert in Lincoln City.

The Pacific Northwest is far north of the turtle's normal range, according to the aquarium.

Turtles that wash ashore in the Northwest require immediate care and should not be pushed back into the ocean, staff said.

The sub-adult turtle arrived at the Aquarium conscious but with swelling and blood around its eyes.

Staff rinsed sand off the turtle, checked its vital signs and lubricated its shell to help it stay hydrated.

The 48-pound turtle was hypothermic, with a body temperature of just 57 degrees Fahrenheit, some 18 degrees below normal.

"It is strong, but may have sustained head injuries in the surf, so its prognosis is quite guarded at this point," said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Assistant Curator of Fishes & Invertebrates who oversees the Aquarium's rehabilitation of fishes, invertebrates and reptiles.

Mochon-Collura contacted veterinarian Dr. Steen Smith, who works closely with Aquarium staff, for a house call. A plan for the turtle's care was outlined and medical treatment was initiated Thursday afternoon, the aquarium staff said.

The turtle's eyes were rinsed and treated with an antibiotic ointment, the aquarium staff said. A hydration bath of salt water mixed with fresh water, matching the turtle's body temperature, also provided a chance to clear sand from its eyes, nose and under its shell.

The Aquarium's team is working around the clock to administer fluids and slowly raise the turtle's body temperature, which must be done gradually to keep it from going into shock, the aquarium staff said.

There is still a significant chance the turtle will succumb to its injuries, the aquarium cautioned.

The best case scenario is that it will need several months of rehabilitation before it is healthy enough to be transferred south for eventual release in its warmer, native waters, the aquarium staff said.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is the only rehabilitation facility in Oregon permitted to provide the specialized care sea turtles require.

Olive ridley turtles are classified as endangered so its recovery is important to the future success of the species.

"Rehabilitation returns reproductively viable individuals to the wild breeding population that otherwise would not have survived, which contributes to species recovery. Rehabilitation efforts also help us prepare for catastrophic events such as oil spills or disease by establishing clinical familiarity with listed species," Elbert said.

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.

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