Newport, Oregon — A recently stranded loggerhead turtle who received care at the Oregon Coast Aquarium took flight to SeaWorld San Diego last weekend. Early this February the Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCAq) received a call from a private citizen reporting a stranded turtle on Nelscott Beach near Lincoln City, Oregon. OCAq’s Curator of Fish and Invertebrates, Evonne Mochon-Collura, called Jim Rice of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, who stationed a volunteer to manage the area until he picked the animal up and brought it to the Aquarium for triage.
The turtle was identified as a loggerhead. As with most turtle strandings on the Oregon Coast, the animal was caught up in our cold waters, quickly losing the ability to eat or move. Cold-stunned turtles are at the mercy of the waves until they wash ashore.
During standard triage protocols, it was determined that the turtle was a sub-adult female. Her temperature registered as 50°F. A healthy temperature for a turtle is around 75°F.
In order to avoid shocking the turtle’s systems, the temperature must be raised slowly and gradually; about five degrees per day. The process involves transferring the turtle to increasingly warm water baths, with constant monitoring to ensure the turtle is comfortable and breathing.
Blood samples and x-rays were taken to assess the turtle’s internal status. As the turtle’s temperature increased, she displayed signs of stability, including increased mobility and appetite.
Mochon-Collura, OCAq’s Director of Husbandry Jim Burke, and Dr. Julianne Vickstrom of Willamette Veterinary Hospital determined that the loggerhead was ready to move on to the next step in her care. The Oregon Coast Aquarium performs triage on stranded turtles, but for long-term care and rehabilitation/release, they must be transported elsewhere.
OCAq has built a relationship with a non-profit organization called Turtles Fly Too. The network’s mission is to coordinate and facilitate the use of general aviation to transport endangered species, critical response teams, and to educate the community on marine life conservation.
After receiving confirmation that SeaWorld staff was prepared to take her in, a flight was coordinated between OCAq staff and a volunteer pilot to transport the loggerhead to SeaWorld San Diego.
Before transport, the loggerhead was given a final exam, covered in lubricant to prevent dehydration, and strapped into a custom stretcher and crate designed to keep her warm and secure.
As the plane took flight, the team waved goodbye.
“I just received a video from SeaWorld San Diego,” reported Mochon-Collura a short time later. “The loggerhead is swimming in their large outdoor pool—a successful triage and transport!”
SeaWorld staff will continue to assess the animal’s condition and work toward her eventual release. The reintroduction of even one turtle is enough to impact the overall population. This loggerhead’s journey is far from over; thanks for the combined efforts of dedicated volunteers and staff, the next chapter of her story is just beginning.
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 (MMSN) in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114.
When stranded turtles are reported and transported to the Aquarium, Aquarium staff assess the animal and take measures to stabilize it, with the ultimate goal of rehabilitation and release. While odds of successful rehabilitation may be low, the Aquarium will continue these efforts to save endangered species, with the hope that even one saved turtle can help species recovery.
About Oregon Coast Aquarium
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 nonprofit 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. aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.