Olive ridley sea turtles pass away despite aquarium efforts

Injured olive ridley sea turtle found near Coos Bay on Dec. 13, 2018 receives x-rays at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Photo courtesy Oregon Coast Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport reports the death of the two olive ridley sea turtles, despite strong aquarium staff efforts toward their recovery.

The first sea turtle, named Donatello, was stranded on Horsefall Beach in Coos Bay on Wednesday. The female olive ridley suffered from multiple breaks in her shell, blood-loss and severe cold-stun. While initial blood analysis showed no signs of infection, additional testing revealed severely compromised kidneys.

"Donatello likely succumbed to that and potentially other internal issues related to cold stun," the aquarium said in a news release.

The second sea turtle, also a female olive ridley, was stranded in Waldport on Saturday morning amid hazardous surf conditions.

“While she appeared physically intact, cold-stunning itself takes its toll on the turtle’s internal organs,” said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Oregon Coast Aquarium Curator of Fish and Invertebrates. “As always with animals with sustained injuries, they have a lot of challenges through recovery. We submitted X-rays and blood samples for further analysis to determine her internal condition.”

Cold-stunned sea turtles present a myriad of complications that are difficult to diagnose and can remain hidden for some time, officials said.

“The passing of the sea turtles had to be confirmed by rigor mortis, as a lack of response and heartbeat through a fetal doppler can confirm ‘no sign of life,’ but not death,” said Mochon-Collura.

Both sea turtles will undergo necropsies to determine the exact cause of death. Multiple organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA utilize stranding data and necropsy results for research and education on the endangered species.

"While the odds of successfully rehabilitating stranded sea turtles are low, the aquarium will continue efforts to save injured endangered species for the chance of boosting threatened wild populations," the news release stated.

Lightning and Solstice are both olive ridley female sea turtles that were treated at the aquarium before being released in Fall 2017. Their movements were tracked off known breeding grounds in Mexico this past spring.

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.

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