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Necropsy Scheduled After Body of 'Rare' 75 lb Turtle Washes Up in Oregon

Newsweek 3/22/2023 Pandora Dewan

While walking along the Oregon coast on Saturday morning, a beachgoer stumbled across a 75-pound loggerhead turtle lying on the sands of Manzanita Beach.

"The Oregon Coast is no stranger to sea turtles, [but] the species usually encountered are Olive Ridleys," Tiffany Boothe, a spokesperson for the Seaside Aquarium, said in a statement. Photos of the washed-up animal had been sent to the aquarium, which quickly arrived at the scene. "Loggerheads are quite rare for this area."

The loggerhead had clearly been dead for some time, and smaller sea creatures had already begun to colonize its shell. It is unclear what killed the loggerhead turtle that washed up on Manzanita Beach, but Boothe said that a necropsy will be scheduled to attempt to determine the cause of death.

"This ocean-going turtle had a whole ecosystem traveling with it," Boothe said. "When cleaning its shell so a positive identification could be made, live gooseneck barnacles, skeleton shrimp, and even nudibranchs [commonly known as sea slugs] were found!"

Loggerhead turtles can be found all over the world, with nine distinct populations across the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Their name derives from their distinctively large heads, which support powerful jaws to enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey.

The adults can grow up to 3.5 feet long and weigh up to 350 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The species is classed as being vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and its population is decreasing worldwide.

"In the Pacific, there are two different populations which both nest exclusively in the Japanese Archipelago," Boothe said in her statement. "Juveniles forage, develop, and mature in the East, West, and Central Pacific. Some of the most productive foraging grounds can be found off the coast of Baja California."

However, it is unusual to find the species so far North at this time of year. "Sea turtles forage for food in an offshore warm-water current that originates much farther South," the Seaside Aquarium said in a Facebook post.

"Certain weather patterns like prolonged Southwest winds can drive that warm water farther North and closer to shore than usual. If this happens and then conditions suddenly change, the warm current dissipates, and the turtles find themselves trapped in the colder currents that run naturally along the Oregon and Washington Coasts," the aquarium said.

Photo of a loggerhead turtle swimming in a coral reef. mirecca/Getty © mirecca/Getty Photo of a loggerhead turtle swimming in a coral reef. mirecca/Getty

"Turtles, like all reptiles, are cold blooded, so this is a highly unfavorable situation for them. Their bodily functions slow and they may become hypothermic."

As well as colder water temperatures, the turtle may have encountered other threats on its journey North, such as becoming entangled in fishing gear, being struck by a boat, or ingesting marine debris.

Ocean plastic is a particular threat to this species as research shows that the turtles are actually attracted to the smell of "ocean-soaked" plastic.

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