NEWPORT, Ore. - Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year, and Oregon Coast Aquarium staff found out late Thursday night that this travel is not limited to humans. A female olive ridley sea turtle, Lepidochelys olivacea, arrived at the Aquarium for care, thanks to a joint effort by two Good Samaritans and multiple organizations.
Chad and Mickey Heidt of Beaverton were camping at Cape Disappointment State Park in southern Washington and discovered the stranded turtle while walking on Benson Beach Thursday around 4:30 p.m.
“I knew there was a major sensitivity to time, so we hurried to contact someone who could help,” said Chad Heidt. The couple was able to reach the Marine Mammal Standing Network and coordinated with Seaside Aquarium staff, who provided instructions for assisting in the transfer of the turtle, with the help of a Washington Park Ranger.
Laura Todd with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service retrieved the turtle from Seaside to transport it safely to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is the only rehabilitation facility in Oregon authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide the specialized care sea turtles require.
After receiving the turtle around 12:30 a.m. Friday, aquarium staff evaluated her condition, administered fluids, and performed a blood draw.
Aquarium officials said in a news release that initial exams show the turtle is extremely emaciated and had likely been buoyant for an extended amount of time. Her temperature was 59° Fahrenheit, which is well below the standard temperature of 75°.
“Today we are especially thankful for the dedication from all parties involved given the short notice on a holiday,” said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “Our staff will perform X-rays today and continue to monitor the sea turtle’s condition. Although we are always uncertain of the outcome when we receive extremely sick animals, we are hopeful for this turtle’s successful rehabilitation.”
Olive ridley sea turtles are classified as endangered, so this individual’s recovery is important for survival of the species. “The successful release of stranded sea turtles, as represented by our two previously rehabilitated olive ridley sea turtles, Lightning and Solstice, supports that the Aquarium’s efforts make a positive difference in conserving threatened and endangered marine species,” said Burke.
As the Oregon coast enters the winter season, it is likely that we will see more cases of stranded turtles. Burke further explained that “sea turtles do not reach Oregon beaches unless injured or sick, and once stranded, they require immediate specialized care to survive.”
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 in Oregon, Washington and California at 1-866-767-6114.