Nine Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, one green sea turtle, and one loggerhead sea turtle will be released by rehabilitation partners

Boston, MA - August 20, 2007
On August 20, 11 critically endangered sea turtles will be released back to the saltwater home they haven’t seen for more than nine months. The event will take place on Dowses Beach in the village of Osterville in Barnstable, Massachusetts. In total, nine Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, one green sea turtle, and one loggerhead sea turtle will be released by rehabilitation partners including the New England Aquarium, the National Marine Life Center (NMLC), the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Woods Hole Science Aquarium. The sea turtles – all juveniles – were found cold-stunned during the period from October through December of 2006, and were rescued by volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Late each fall, many juvenile sea turtles feeding in Cape Cod Bay fail to migrate south. Since the turtles are cold-blooded, their bodies assume the temperature of the water around them and they eventually become hypothermic. Some die at sea while others drift to shore. Volunteers from the MassAudubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescue the turtles along the beach and transport them to rehabilitation centers. There the turtles are slowly warmed and treated for complications of hypothermia, including pneumonia and bone and joint problems. Sea turtle stranding season lasts from late October through December.

“Saving these critically endangered animals is essential to ocean conservation. We’re thrilled to be working along side institutions such as the New England Aquarium, MassAudubon, Riverhead, and NOAA in the fight to save stranded sea turtles on Cape Cod” said Kathy Zagzebski, NMLC President and Executive Director.

“The Northeast stranding network partners do a great job caring for cold-stunned sea turtles. It’s exciting to be able to release these animals all together,” says Sara McNulty of NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northeast Protected Resources Division. McNulty oversees the region’s Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, a federal program operated under the joint authorities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service. The loggerhead sea turtle completed its rehabilitation at NOAA’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium.

New England Aquarium biologists will attach satellite tags to two of the animals, including one of the Kemp’s ridleys and the green turtle. Connie Merigo, the Aquarium’s Stranding Program Director, explains that researchers “hope to use the data from the satellite tags to gather information about their post-release behavior, survival, migration and habitat, and to see how our rehabilitation techniques affect the turtles in the wild.” The satellite tags will be attached to the turtles’ shells just behind their necks. The tags are small and weigh just about a tenth of a pound. Physical identification tags are also placed on the turtles’ flippers and just under their skin. The public may follow the turtles’ progress at www.seaturtle.org/tracking.

Veterinarians perform a few routine procedures on the turtles to prepare them for release, including physical examinations, blood tests, and x-rays. “The turtles have to meet normal behavior requirements in diving, swimming, and feeding,” says Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis, who is responsible for assessing the animals’ health. “Some of the turtles have also had additional testing to determine that their medical problems are resolved. We’ve done ultrasounds, CT scans, and even nuclear scintigraphy on the animals with bone injuries.” Nuclear scintigraphy is a procedure that involves the injection of a mildly radioactive drug into the bloodstream to highlight areas of the body with damaged tissue.

The rescue and rehabilitation of these turtles is prompted in large part by their extremely endangered status. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the world’s most endangered sea turtle, with only a few thousand breeding females known to exist in the wild. Kemp’s ridleys are also among the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults weighing up to 100 pounds and reaching about two feet in length. The juveniles being released weigh 11-16 pounds. Kemp’s ridley’s range includes the Gulf coasts of Mexico and the U.S., and the Atlantic coast of North America.

Along with the Kemp’s ridleys, one loggerhead sea turtle will also be released. Named for their large heads, adult loggerheads weigh about 250 pounds and reach about 3 feet in length. The juvenile being released weighs approximately 100 pounds. They can be found throughout temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Loggerheads, though wide-ranging and abundant compared with Kemp’s ridleys, are considered endangered because their population has dropped significantly in the past ten years.

Additionally, one green sea turtle will be released. Named because of the green tinge of the adult turtles’ fat caused by a diet of algae, adult greens can weigh up to 350 pounds and reach more than three feet in length. The juvenile being released weighs approximately 13 pounds. Like Loggerheads, greens can be found in temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Although wide-ranging and abundant compared with Kemp’s ridleys, Greens are considered endangered because of significant population decreases caused by poaching, entanglement, and disease.