When the cold weather hit, the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were still off the New England coast and hadn’t made their migration south to warmer waters.
According to the Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network, 30 of the animals were part of a recent “massive cold-stunning event” that required intervention of a number of groups.
The hypothermic sea turtles were then transported south for rehabilitation and eventual release into the Gulf of Mexico.
But it’s been quite a journey.
“We were more than happy to jump in and offer our help with the rehabilitation of these sea turtles,” said Gabriella Harlamert, Audubon Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding, Rescue, and Rehab Coordinator.
On Nov. 25-26, Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network (CWN), @NEAQ, @MarineLifeCtr, @TNAquarium, @NOAA & Turtles Fly Too helped 30 rescued Kemp's ridley sea turtles travel safely to New Orleans, where they are on the road to recovery at CWN’s Aquatic Center: https://t.co/RxtC2Y0Dxt pic.twitter.com/kPNUiBRVyk— Audubon Nature Institute (@AudubonNature) December 1, 2020
Cold-stunning can decrease heart and respiration rates, cut circulation, and cause lethargy. It can also lead to shell trauma, shock and pneumonia.
When the turtles washed up on Cape Code beaches, staff and volunteers with Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary jumped to the rescue.
From there, 21 turtles went to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital and the other nine went to the National Marine Life Center.
Then they hitched a ride between Nov. 25-26 with Turtles Fly Too, Inc. which recruits “turtle fliers,” who donate their equipment and expertise to help with rescue efforts of endangered species around the United States.
“Our Turtle Fliers are always ready and generously contribute to assist in endangered species rescue,” explained Leslie Weinstein, president of Turtles Fly Too. “[We] provide affected rescue and rehabilitation agencies a rapid solution; whether we transport one or 70 sea turtles, at a value of between $10-$35K per flight.”
After a pit stop at the Tennessee Aquarium due to poor weather, the turtles wound up at secondary rehabilitation facilities along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, including the Coastal Wildlife Network.
“It’s easy to fall in love with sea turtles and appreciate the dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to save these endangered animals,” Keith Sanford, the Tennessee Aquarium’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Our team was happy to provide assistance to this important rescue and rehabilitation project.”
NEWSROOM: Organizations come together to save endangered turtles after transport flight encounters challenges · Tennessee Aquarium https://t.co/REQm9tiidn pic.twitter.com/MchgrHuKW0— Tennessee Aquarium 🐢 (@TNAquarium) December 1, 2020
Officials hope to start releasing some of the turtles into the Gulf of Mexico in as early as two months. But others may take longer to be cleared by veterinarians to return to the wild.
“This effort would not have been possible without the generous collaboration of organizations across the country who all value the conservation of this endangered species,” Harlamert added.