30 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued off U.S. northeast coast

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.

Checking out one of the patients. Photo: Coastal Wildlife Network

“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.

Cold-stunning can decrease heart and respiration rates, cut circulation, and cause lethargy. It can also lead to shell trauma, shock and pneumonia.

Warming up some cold-stunned sea turtles. Photo: Coastal Wildlife Network

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.

A cold-stunned sea turtle is being assessed. Photo: Coastal Wildlife Network

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.”

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.

Cold-stunned Sea Turtle Rescue November 2020. Photo: Coastal Wildlife Network

“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.

One of the lucky turtles. Photo: Coastal Wildlife Network

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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