A hypothermic sea turtle rescued in Cannon Beach and taken to the Seattle Aquarium for treatment is doing better, but isn’t in the clear yet, according to aquarium staff.
“The turtle has shown slight improvement in the last 24 hours but is still in critical condition,” said Tim Kuniholm, Seattle Aquarium director of public affairs. It is under the care of Dr. Lesanna Lahner, Seattle Aquarium’s veterinarian.
As of late December, the turtle was still alive.
“It’s not doing great, but it’s still hanging in there,” said Keith Chandler, general manager of the Seaside Aquarium. He uses the term “guardedly optimistic” when talking about the turtle’s outlook.
Staff at the Seaside Aquarium rescued the male olive ridley sea turtle after it washed ashore south of Tolovana the morning of Dec. 14, likely pushed into colder waters by recent strong winds, aquarium Administrative Assistant Tiffany Boothe said. Juvenile olive ridleys sometimes travel in warm currents offshore.
“With the weather patterns, we weren’t surprised to find one,” Boothe said.
Seaside Aquarium staff wrapped turtle in blankets and slowly warmed it to avoid shock while awaiting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pickup.
Live turtles are normally taken to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, but aquarium staff are already rehabilitating one found in Pacific City earlier this month. Newport and Seattle’s aquariums are the only Pacific Northwest rehabilitation facilities authorized to provide the care sea turtles need.
Chandler said the survival chances for Tolovana’s turtle are slim. At this stage, hypothermic and often injured in the surf, there’s a 75 to 90 percent mortality rate for the turtles.
But if the Tolovana turtle survives, it will also be released into Californian waters. The reptiles often hitch a ride with an agency such as the U.S. Coast Guard during a training trip, said Laura Todd, Newport Field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She noted that Cannon Beach’s turtle was at 50 degrees when it arrived in Seattle. The turtle’s normal temperature is in the low 70s.
Sea life rescuers expect to see more of the endangered turtles beached along the coast with this year’s El Niño. Todd said the turtles normally remain south of San Diego. However, she added, they do sometimes travel farther north in warm currents searching for food.
“When the conditions are right for one, they’re right for several,” Chandler said.
Last year, five sea turtles were found off the coast. Three were dead upon arrival and one died in transit. The fifth was successfully transported to San Diego.
On Monday, Dec. 21, two more olive ridley turtles arrived in the area, one in Seaview, Wash., and the other near Del Rey Beach, bringing the total to four for this year. Both were transported to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
The one from Seaview had a head injury and died a few days after arriving at the aquarium. The one from Del Rey, who was found shortly after being washed ashore, Chandler said, was still alive and “doing OK” as of Dec. 30.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges anyone who finds a sea turtle on the beach to contact the Oregon State Police Wildlife Hotline at 800-452-7888.