A sick olive ridley turtle washed up on a beach near Mataikona on Saturday but couldn’t be saved.
A Department of Conservation [DOC] spokesperson said this is the first time in recent memory that an olive ridley turtle has been stranded in Wairarapa, but they do occasionally wash up across the country.
DOC staff members collected the turtle and took it to a local vet before it was sent to The Nest Te Kōhanga animal hospital at Wellington Zoo, the spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately, it was very sick, and after consulting with experts from New Zealand Centre for Conservation Medicine, the decision was made to euthanise the turtle.”
Although the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said olive ridley turtles typically weigh an average 100 pounds [45kg], the DOC spokesperson said the washed-up turtle weighed only 23kg.
Olive ridley turtles are “extremely difficult” to treat and rehabilitate, the spokesperson said, while other species that strand in New Zealand have a much better chance of survival.
DOC said the species is one of the least frequently found in New Zealand waters. Strandings are uncommon and signify stragglers – possibly sick or injured animals that have drifted here on ocean currents.
The olive ridley turtles are mostly found in the tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.
One of the last reports of an olive ridley turtle washing up in New Zealand was on a South Auckland beach in 2011.
At the time, marine scientist Dan Godoy said the turtle had goose barnacles on its shell, which suggested it had been floating for some time and was unable to dive for food.
“That’s usually due to an illness that could be caused by the ingestion of marine debris such as plastic.”
Godoy added that turtles are prone to eating plastic because they forage in areas where there are build-ups of marine debris.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, olive ridley turtles are currently the most common of all sea turtles.
All sea turtle species found in New Zealand waters, including the olive ridley turtle, are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] red list of threatened species.
The DOC spokesperson urged members of the public who see a stranded marine turtle to call DOC’s 24-hour number 0800 DOC HOT line [0800 362 468].
Other species of turtle are more likely to strand on Wairarapa’s coastline, the spokesperson said, and are more likely to be able to be rehabilitated.