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WEST DENNIS, MASS. (Aug. 17, 2023) – The New England Aquarium released two critically endangered sea turtles off Cape Cod on Thursday morning, the last of a group requiring long-term rehabilitative care after stranding last winter.
Aquarium staff looked on as the two Kemp’s ridley turtles crawled across the sand and into Nantucket Sound. Staff and volunteers with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescued the turtles from Cape Cod in December 2022 and brought them to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital, where they began treatment for hypothermia-related medical conditions.
Aquarium staff, volunteers, and interns have a tradition of naming the turtles receiving months-long care, and this year’s theme was pasta and noodle shapes. The two turtles released on Thursday, “Sopresine” and “Rotelle,” required extensive medical treatment over the past eight months. Sopresine was emaciated and had severe pneumonia that the Aquarium’s veterinary team treated with antibiotics and antifungal medications including the use of a nebulizer. The turtle gained nearly three pounds while in the Aquarium’s care. Rotelle is one of the most critical turtle cases of this stranding season. This turtle developed bacterial sepsis and bone infections, which required extensive treatments including surgery and various medications—antibiotics, antifungals, and pain relievers. The turtle also required nutritional support administered via a tube placed into the stomach. The turtle has healed well and now has a strong appetite.
“These two sea turtles clearly demonstrate how, despite their severe life-threatening illnesses and the many associated challenges, they can fully recover when given a chance,” said Dr. Kathy Tuxbury, senior veterinarian at the Aquarium.
As part of their work protecting ocean animals and habitats, Aquarium scientists will be tracking and studying Rotelle’s movement using a satellite tag, which will provide valuable information about where this turtle swims, feeds, and travels. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are a critically endangered species, facing threats including fisheries interactions, climate change, ocean pollution, and degradation of their habitat. Rescue, rehabilitation, and research efforts help to conserve this species.
During the 2022 cold-stunning season, the Aquarium treated 518 live sea turtles. Once the turtles were stabilized, staff veterinarians in collaboration with Rescue biologists examined animals that needed further care and cleared others for travel to secondary rehabilitation facilities. Turtles with more critical injuries remained at the New England Aquarium long-term, while others were transferred to partner organizations across the country to continue rehabilitation.
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 more than 700 in 2021. Researchers have predicted through statistical modeling that by 2031, these events may bring thousands of sea turtles to our shores annually.
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