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Aquarium Helps Stranded Loggerhead Turtle

Loggerhead turtle (photo from Oregon Coast Aquarium)

Sometimes you take work home with you, and sometimes it shows up in your backyard.

That was the case on March 26, when Oregon Coast Aquarium’s (OCAq) Director of Husbandry Jim Burke answered a call about a sea turtle washed ashore near his home on Newport’s South Beach. The report came from Burke’s neighbor Emily Klipfel; knowing that sea turtles are not a typical sight on Oregon’s shores, she called him as soon as she spotted the animal.  Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act—it’s illegal to collect or harass them. OCAq has an endangered species recovery permit for sea turtles from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, allowing Burke to directly acquire and transport the turtle to the Aquarium for triage.

Weighing in at just over 53lbs, the turtle was identified as a sub-adult female loggerhead. An intake exam and temperature check confirmed staff suspicions: the turtle was cold-stunned, with a core temperature of 54.8°F. Sea turtles rely on their surroundings for warmth, and have a typical core temperature of ~75°F. Once enveloped in cold waters, sea turtles become lethargic and unable to eat or navigate, floating along until the waves push them ashore.

Upon her arrival, staff began the process of slowly warming her up. To avoid shocking her system, she was transferred to increasingly warm water baths to raise her body temperature just ~5°F per day.

Burke nicknamed the turtle Molly in honor of recently retired Director of Development Molly Dumas, as the turtle arrived on her final day at the Aquarium. During her time at OCAq, Dumas raised millions of dollars in grants and private funds to support the Aquarium and its mission. When a stranded turtle is brought to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, staff provide immediate care while coordinating with other facilities to determine rehabilitation and release plans. The next step in this loggerhead’s recovery would take place at Sealife Response, Rehabilitation, and Research (SR3). Based in Washington state, SR3 operates a dedicated marine wildlife hospital capable of accommodating long-term patients.

On April 3, the SR3 team loaded the loggerhead into their marine animal ambulance and headed north. After reaching their destination, the SR3 team took x-rays and tested the turtle’s blood to look for any underlying issues; in the meantime, the turtle continues to warm up in their pools. Stay tuned for updates from SR3, and remember: if you find a stranded sea turtle, report it as soon as possible to the Oregon State Police Tipline at 800-452-7888  or the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN) in OR, WA, and CA at 1-866-767-6114.

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