The stranding of an endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle on the Oregon Coast in mid-October offers a reminder that the typical season for sea turtle strandings is beginning. Beachgoers should watch for stranded turtles and report them through an available hotline so trained responders can help rescue the animals, if necessary.
An initial call to the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network at about 6 pm. October 21 reported an adult female Olive Ridley sea turtle stranded alive near Salishan, Oregon. The Oregon network is part of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, coordinated by NOAA Fisheries. The OSU network coordinator, Jim Rice, responded to the report and, with the help of local residents, collected the turtle from the beach. No Oregon facilities were available to take the turtle, so Rice transported the turtle to Kelso, WA where he transferred it to SR3 (SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research) for transport to the Seattle Aquarium, where it remains for long-term care and rehabilitation.
The turtle is currently in guarded condition but has been showing signs of gradual improvement with the help of supportive care, gradual warming, antibiotics, and other medications. She remains weak and emaciated but the Seattle Aquarium team is doing everything possible to bring her back to good health.
Olive Ridley sea turtles are one of the most abundant species of sea turtles in the world, but are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While Olive Ridleys are most abundant in warm tropical waters, the frequency of strandings may suggest they are more common off the Oregon and Washington coast than originally thought. Sea turtles do not typically come ashore unless they are hypothermic, sick, or injured. Strandings occur most often in late fall and early winter, when ocean conditions shift and sometimes trap turtles in colder water. Cold water debilitates sea turtles by reducing their body temperature, leaving them unable to swim and feed and more susceptible to currents that can carry them ashore. 49 sea turtles have stranded in Washington and Oregon over the past 10 years.
Trained responders take stranded sea turtles to an authorized rehabilitation facility, in this case the Seattle Aquarium, where they are treated for hypothermia and assessed for any underlying illness or injury. Since sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act, rehabilitation facilities must be permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Treating and rehabilitating sea turtles is a lengthy process that typically takes about 8-10 months. Once recovered, healthy turtles are typically released back into the wild in more southern waters.
If you find a sea turtle on shore please report it immediately to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114. This hotline is monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the Network will respond as quickly as possible to your report. The Network includes organizations throughout Washington, Oregon and California.
For more information on what to do if you find a sea turtle on the beach, please visit: http://usfwspacific.tumblr.com/post/96478074645/qa-why-your-help-is-needed-when-sea-turtles-wash
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