Curtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Outdoor Wildlife

What to do if you find a sea turtle stranded on the Oregon Coast

Courtesy of NOAA and the MMSN
West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network Contacts for Oregon

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is asking beach goers to keep an eye open for stranded sea turtles. Winter storms and transitioning ocean conditions along the Pacific push sea turtles northward into colder waters, where they quickly grow weak and end up stranded on Northwest beaches.

The Key Message: If you find a sea turtle on the beach this winter, 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 (MMSN) in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114.

Courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium
A green sea turtle found near the mouth of the Columbia River.

“Sea turtles that are near our shoreline this time of year have become enveloped by colder water as the warmer summer currents dissipate and winter sets in here in the Northeastern Pacific,” said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “This environmental change slows the turtles down, which decreases their ability to migrate south, feed and maintain homeostasis. This can lead to dehydration, malnutrition and hypothermia as the animal physiologically shuts down. They then often become victim to the currents and waves, which can bring them crashing onto our beaches.”

The Oregon Coast Aquarium and Seattle Aquarium are the only rehabilitation facilities in the northwest United States authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to rehabilitate sea turtles. Pacific green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are two species that most commonly strand in the Pacific Northwest, and both are protected by the endangered species act.

Courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium
An olive ridley sea turtle found stranded on the southern Washington coast was discovered on Thanksgiving day and named by the aquarium crew, Turkey.

A sea turtle was found stranded on the Oregon coast last week, but it was determined deceased upon arrival on the beach. Last year, the Aquarium treated the first sea turtle, a female olive ridley, on Thanksgiving. Two more turtles followed throughout the winter, but unfortunately, none of the large reptiles survived. Cold-stunned sea turtles present a myriad of complications that are difficult to diagnose and can remain hidden for some time.

The Aquarium’s past successful rehabilitation and releases of stranded sea turtles, although rarer, serve as evidence for the positive impacts of sea turtle rescue. The return of reproductively viable sea turtles back into wild endangered breeding populations can be critical for species recovery. And while cooperation among partner organizations and federal and state agencies is essential to rescue sea turtles—it begins with you.

If you find a sea turtle on the Oregon coast, 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 (MMSN) in Oregon, Washington, and California at 1-866-767-6114. The MMSN will act immediately to coordinate recovery and transportation for the sea turtle to the appropriate rehabilitation facility.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium relies on visitor-related revenues, grants and donations to finance its annual operations, including its wildlife rehabilitation activities. To learn more about the Aquarium’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program and plans to build a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, visit aquarium.org or call (541) 867-3474. The Aquarium is open every day this winter (except December 25) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Turkey the sea turtle gets weighed in during rehabilitation at the 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 non-profit 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. www.aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook.com/OregonCoastAquarium, or Twitter.com/OrCoastAquarium for the latest updates.■