A recently stranded loggerhead turtle who received care at the Oregon Coast Aquarium took flight to SeaWorld San Diego last weekend.
Early this February, the Oregon Coast Aquarium received a call from a private citizen reporting a stranded turtle on Nelscott Beach near Lincoln City, Oregon. The aquarium's Curator of Fish and Invertebrates, Evonne Mochon-Collura, called Jim Rice of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, who stationed a volunteer to manage the area until he picked the animal up and brought it to the Aquarium for triage.
The turtle was identified as a loggerhead. As with most turtle strandings on the Oregon Coast, the animal was caught up in our cold waters, quickly losing the ability to eat or move. Cold-stunned turtles are at the mercy of the waves until they wash ashore.
During standard triage protocols, it was determined that the turtle was a sub-adult female. Her temperature registered as 50°F. A healthy temperature for a turtle is around 75°F.
In order to avoid shocking the turtle’s systems, the temperature must be raised slowly and gradually; about five degrees per day. The process involves transferring the turtle to increasingly warm water baths, with constant monitoring to ensure the turtle is comfortable and breathing.
Blood samples and x-rays were taken to assess the turtle’s internal status. As the turtle’s temperature increased, she displayed signs of stability, including increased mobility and appetite.
Mochon-Collura, OCAq’s Director of Husbandry Jim Burke, and Dr. Julianne Vickstrom of Willamette Veterinary Hospital determined that the loggerhead was ready to move on to the next step in her care. The Oregon Coast Aquarium performs triage on stranded turtles, but for long-term care and rehabilitation/release, they must be transported elsewhere.
OCAq has built a relationship with a non-profit organization called Turtles Fly Too. The network’s mission is to coordinate and facilitate the use of general aviation to transport endangered species, critical response teams, and to educate the community on marine life conservation.
After receiving confirmation that SeaWorld staff was prepared to take her in, a flight was coordinated between OCAq staff and a volunteer pilot to transport the loggerhead to SeaWorld San Diego.
Before transport, the loggerhead was given a final exam, covered in lubricant to prevent dehydration, and strapped into a custom stretcher and crate designed to keep her warm and secure.
The turtle continues to recover at SeaWorld and will eventually be released into the wild.