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Turtles stranded on Cape Cod during 2022 cold-stunning season
BOSTON, MASS. (April 18, 2023) – Two dozen sea turtles are back in the ocean waters off of North Carolina after undergoing months of rehabilitative care at the New England Aquarium.
Biologists from the Aquarium drove the 24 turtles down to Fort Fisher, N.C., and released them Monday as a crowd of bystanders looked on. The turtles spent months at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy, M.A., undergoing treatment for conditions including pneumonia, dehydration, and bone fractures, a result of being unable to regulate their body temperature in the cold waters of Cape Cod Bay. After veterinarians cleared the group of turtles to return to the ocean, the Aquarium organized a ground transport to North Carolina, where the waters are warm enough in the springtime for the turtles to reacclimate.
“This is the best time of the year for us. Getting the turtles back to their ocean home is why we do this, in hopes that each one of these turtles helps their population bounce back from the possibility of extinction,” said Adam Kennedy, Director of Rescue and Rehabilitation.
The group included 23 Kemp’s ridleys—a critically endangered species—and one green sea turtle. During the ground transport, the vehicle temperature is set to match the water temperature at the release location and monitored throughout the trip. The turtles also receive fluids to better prepare them for a return to the ocean. Aquarium staff, volunteers, and interns have a tradition of naming the turtles receiving months-long care. Among those released this week: Fusilli, Pastine, Gemelli, and Udon—in keeping with this year’s naming theme of pasta and noodle shapes.
“The majority of the cold-stunned sea turtles that come to our hospital have a poor prognosis, but as they progress in their rehabilitation, you see them really start to get their spark back,” said Rescue Biologist Alessia Brugnara, who led the transport. “Working with these turtles from the moment they come in off the frigid Cape Cod beaches, and seeing them swim away in the ocean, gives my job purpose.”
Staff and volunteers from Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescued the turtles from Cape Cod beaches during the annual cold-stunning event, which began in November 2022 and went into January 2023. The rapidly changing ocean temperature and wind pattern causes many turtles to become hypothermic and strand onshore, at which point the Mass Audubon team transports the animals to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital to be triaged and rehabilitated.
The Aquarium treated a total of 518 turtles over the course of the 2022 season. Staff veterinarians worked with staff biologists to create individualized treatment plans for the hospitalized turtles, who require weeks or months of care depending on the severity of their illness. The remaining 26 turtles at the Aquarium facility will be released off Cape Cod in the summer months, once the waters of Nantucket Sound have warmed.
The number of annual cold-stunned sea turtle strandings in Massachusetts varies from year to year but has steadily increased from around 50 in 2000 to about 900 in 2022, making it the third-busiest season on record. Scientists have predicted through statistical modeling that by 2031, these events will bring thousands of sea turtles to our shores annually.
Pam Bechtold Snyder – email@example.com, 617-686-5068