“Turkey” is the name that has been given to the female olive ridley sea turtle that arrived at the Oregon Coast Aquarium on Thanksgiving. It has been seven days since she stranded on Benson Beach in southern Washington, and although her condition continues to improve, Aquarium husbandry staff remain cautious toward her prognosis.
When Turkey arrived at the Aquarium just after midnight on Thanksgiving morning, staff immediately administered fluids and antibiotics to the dehydrated and hypothermic turtle. Very weak and with an internal body temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold-blooded reptile likely had not eaten in a month or longer. Cold-blooded animals like reptiles depend on external heat to regulate their body temperature. In the cold waters of the Washington and Oregon coast, sea turtles can become “cold-stunned”, where heart rate and circulation decreases and the animal becomes extremely lethargic, unable to search for food, and vulnerable to pneumonia.
Turkey is the first turtle to be treated in the Aquarium’s newly renovated sea turtle holding area. Improvements to the space include updated plumbing and lighting, increased capacity and biosecurity, and climate control. On Thanksgiving, Turkey received X-rays with the Aquarium’s new portable digital X-ray machine in order to assess her internal health. This allowed staff to quickly and effectively diagnose that she had no major fractures or immediate internal concerns. Oregon Coast Aquarium Aquarist, Tana Wellner, said that “the additions to our holding facility, an updated portable X-ray, and even on-site blood monitoring not only enables us to perform our job but also minimizes stress to the animal, which makes the potential for recovery even better.”
Husbandry staff applied an antibiotic ointment to minor cracking between the scutes of her shell. Over the weekend, they monitored her condition in a dry holding space while slowly increasing her body temperature with climate control.
On Monday, Turkey received another blood draw to evaluate her hydration and white blood cell count, which can determine if she is fighting an infection like pneumonia. She passed an early milestone by successfully being transferred into a shallow water holding space. Husbandry staff will continue to slowly raise her body temperature, which will be easier now that she is deemed safe to be in the water. Still buoyant and lethargic, the next goal is for her to accept solid food.
“This has been a very rewarding but challenging experience so far. In these critical cases, every decision can affect the animal in such a positive or negative way, so you have to think quickly and use the best of your knowledge,” said Wellner. Staff remain optimistic for Turkey but warn that her recovery is still uncertain.
Sea turtles are not found on Oregon or Washington beaches unless stranded. We most often see 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.