NEWPORT — A juvenile green sea turtle that arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium for care Dec. 3 died about 24 hours later. A Fort Stevens State Park ranger found the young hypothermic sea turtle stranded at the mouth of the Columbia River near the South Jetty.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium had not cared for a green sea turtle since 2012, even though it is one of two sea turtle species most often found stranded on Pacific Northwest beaches. Green sea turtles inhabit tropical and subtropical waters, and the late juvenile likely originated from the East Pacific population, which is classified as threatened by the Endangered Species Act. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Advisor, Laura Todd, said that the Oregon coast “hasn’t had as many greens in recent years, even though historically they have been the most common species found stranded. A very young Pacific green, however, is very rare.”
Upon the green sea turtle’s arrival at the Aquarium, husbandry staff administered fluids, obtained blood samples, and conducted a physical assessment. The animal received X-rays the following morning. Staff said the sea turtle appeared responsive and passed waste, but a high white blood cell count warned that the turtle was likely fighting a significant infection.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium performed a necropsy on the animal to further ascertain the cause of death. Staff found no foreign material in the stomach or intestine, but samples will be evaluated for biotoxin exposure as well. Multiple organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network will utilize the necropsy results for future research on sea turtles.
Although the odds of the successful rehabilitation of extremely sick sea turtles are low, Aquarium staff work diligently to treat the animals and are saddened by their passing, the aquarium said in a press release. Turkey, the female olive ridley that arrived at the aquarium on Thanksgiving after being rescued from Benson Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco, is still undergoing treatment.
Sea turtles are not found on Oregon or Washington beaches unless stranded. The aquarium typically sees these extremely sick turtles in the winter, possibly due to the cold water temperatures, changing currents, and high frequency of harsh storms that wash the hypothermic turtles ashore. 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.