It all started on Tuesday, Nov. 16. A report came through to the Seaside Aquarium about a stranded turtle near Ocean Park, Washington. The aquarium crew quickly responded but by the time they arrived the turtle had vanished. It was assumed that someone came across the turtle on the beach, thought it was dead, and picked it up, an action that is highly illegal. At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning the aquarium got another report of a stranded turtle but this time it was a bit further north in Oysterville, Washington.

The aquarium asked if the reporting party would stay with the turtle until staff could get up there and retrieve the turtle. Luckily, they had the time and were thrilled to stay and “turtle sit.”

When staff arrived, they were surprised to see that it was the same sea turtle that had been stranded nearly a week earlier. Distinctive marks on the turtle’s shell confirmed it was the same animal. When these cold-stunned sea turtles wind up on the beach it can be very difficult to determine if the animal is dead or alive. They can be unresponsive, and their heartbeat can slow to one beat per minute. Other than being highly illegal, it is important to never take a sea turtle off the beach. Though it might look dead, there is a chance it is still alive.

In fact, when the aquarium responds to stranded sea turtles, they treat them all as if they are alive until proven otherwise and that is exactly how they treated this turtle. The fully grown olive ridley sea turtle was not showing any signs of life but it wasn’t until the turtle had been recovered and taken back to the Seaside Aquarium for observation that it was eventually declared dead.

It is still unknown if someone came across the turtle on Tuesday, Nov. 16, and picked it up, only to put the turtle back on the beach later in the week or if the turtle somehow swam back out, something that we have never had happen before.

While this situation is very sad, the aquarium would like to take the time to thank everyone involved in trying to rescue this animal. Thank you to the reporting party, Portland State University for helping to organize transfer of the turtle to a rehab facility, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium for being willing to take the turtle in for rehabilitation.

As far as we know this is the fourth turtle to be recovered in the last two months and “turtle season” has just begun. Two olive Ridley sea turtles stranded in Oregon Oct. 27, both were alive and taken to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and a green sea turtle stranded on the Washington coast and is currently undergoing rehab at the Seattle Aquarium.

Cold-stunned sea turtles can be extremely difficult to rehab. Not only are they suffering from extreme hypothermia, but they also often have other underlying conditions such as pneumonia, infection, and dehydration. They are also prone to broken bones or damage to their shell due to stormy weather, heavy surf, or stranding on a rocky beach. It takes a great deal of care and dedication to work with these animals knowing only about 5% survive.

If you do happen to come across a sea turtle on either an Oregon or Washington beach contact the closest aquarium, state police, or the marine mammal stranding network. If possible, stay with the turtle until someone can respond. Do not move or touch the turtle unless advised to do so by a stranding official.

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