Harsh winter storms are an immutable part of living on the Oregon coast. Residents know to be wary of large waves, shifting currents, and cold water temperatures. These same features that keep humans out of the water (for the most part) in the winter, though, can cause unbeknownst animal visitors to wash up on our shores. If you’re out walking the beach this winter, keep an eye open for stranded sea turtles.
Winter storms and transitioning ocean conditions can push sea turtles northward, sometimes trapping them in cold waters. As sea turtle body temperature decreases, they lose their ability to swim and feed effectively. The sea turtles then rapidly grow weak and can end up stranding on Pacific Northwest beaches. Pacific green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are two species protected by the endangered species act that most commonly strand on Oregon’s beaches. Lightning and Solstice, the olive ridley sea turtles that we recently released and continue to track on our website, are just two examples of the multiple strandings that occur in the Pacific Northwest each year.
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 provide the specialized care sea turtles require. Here at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, we recently made significant renovations to our sea turtle rehabilitation facility that increased holding capacity, climate control, and overall comfort for rescued turtles. New digital x-ray and ultrasound machines will expand our ability to effectively treat these endangered animals in-house, improving diagnostics and reducing stress associated with transport. A timely diagnosis of pneumonia or a broken bone can make the difference between life and death for rescued, often hypothermic, sea turtles.
“The Aquarium plays an active role in helping sea turtles that are victims of rough seas and cold water. As soon as we find a stranded turtle, it is our goal to stabilize the animal so that we can get it back to warmer waters,” said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “The successful release of stranded sea turtles, as represented by Lightning and Solstice, supports that the Aquarium’s efforts make a positive difference in conserving threatened and endangered marine species.”
But we cannot do it alone. Cooperation between the public, federal and state agencies and partner organizations are the hallmark of a successful conservation program and key to halting the decline of sea turtle populations. You can be a part of the team effort. Anyone who finds a sea turtle on the beach 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 Aquarium is open every day this winter (except December 25) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information visit aquarium.org or call (541) 867-3474.