Sea turtles ready to move from Oregon Coast Aquarium to SeaWorld San Diego

Lightning during a check up (Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium)

NEWPORT, Ore. - Two endangered sea turtles that washed up on Northwest beaches are ready to leave the care of the Oregon Coast Aquarium to continue their rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego, aquarium staff said.

The turtles - dubbed Thunder and Lightning after the electrical storms that took place on the Oregon Coast when they stranded in December - will get a ride south courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The airlift is part of a training mission scheduled for March 18.

"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 endangered olive ridley sea turtles were found comatose, hypothermic and malnourished in the wake of 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."

Thunder and Lightning will complete their rehabilitation at SeaWorld San Diego in preparation for release back into the wild 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."

At least 10 sea turtles washed up on Oregon, Washington and northern California beaches this winter, aquarium staff said.

Two other turtles under the care of the Seattle Aquarium and the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada survived and will be transported south in the coming weeks, officials said. The other turtles - at least 6 - succumbed to their injuries.

The aquarium said four turtles recovered in a single year is a record for the Pacific Northwest.

Including Thunder and Lightning, 6 hypothermic sea turtles in 6 years to be successfully rehabilitated for release by the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the aquarium staff said said.

"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 aquarium said in a press release. "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."

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 man who found Lightning on December 10 stayed with the turtle for 2 hours until help arrived.

"The recovery of stranded turtles is always a group effort," said Laura Todd, Newport Field Office Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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."

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