A total of 45 endangered sea turtles that stranded on Cape Cod and were rewarmed and medically stabilized by the New England Aquarium are being flown Monday to Georgia and Florida by a volunteer, private pilot with Turtles Fly Too.

This flight is critical in making room at the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA, as the weather forecast for Thanksgiving weekend is highly favorable for large numbers of hypothermic and floating sea turtles to wash ashore on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay.

Ken and Kristi Andrews of Rochester Hills, Michigan, are team members of the aviation nonprofit group Turtles Fly Too. Flying a twin-engine, turbo prop, the Andrews donate their plane, time, and  piloting skills to help in the recovery of the population of these endangered species. They have flown flights other years as well. Turtles Fly Too is always recruiting private pilots for sea turtle transport and other marine conservation efforts.

a rescued sea turtle is prepared for a flight south
A rescued sea turtle is prepared for a flight south. (Photos Vanessa Kahn)

These recovering Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead sea turtles will be flown to and finish their rehabilitation at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, GA, and Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City, FL. These facilities are part of a network of dozens of marine animal rescue facilities along the Gulf and East Coasts that help in responding to this unique, large-scale sea, turtle stranding event. Rehabilitation time for most turtles is two to four months, but some turtles are treated for up to 10 months or longer.

Each November and December, hundreds of endangered and threatened sea turtles  strand on Cape Cod. These turtles are not only very cold, but also very ill.

As of Monday morning,  the staff and volunteers of the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary had rescued 150 sea turtles off frigid Cape Cod beaches over the previous two weeks. A total of 110 of those severely hypothermic and very sick sea turtles were still alive when found and then driven 90 miles to the Aquarium’s sea turtle facility south of Boston. Of those 110 turtles, 101 have been successfully rewarmed and treated after being admitted with body temperatures in the 40s and low 50s.

All are now being treated for a variety of other life-threatening medical conditions that are a result of weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed. These medical problems includes emaciation, severe dehydration, pneumonia, blood disorders, kidney problems, and shell and bone fractures.

sea turtles are prepared for a flight south

All of these sea turtles are juveniles of three different species that visit southern New England waters each summer to feed on crabs. Many of those that get on the north side of Cape Cod are unable to figure out how to navigate out of Cape Cod Bay in the autumn. As water temperatures drop, the sea turtles slowly become hypothermic and very inactive. If they are lucky, they get washed ashore.

All of these sea turtle species are either threatened or endangered due to the impacts of human activities. Rescuing, rehabilitating, and eventually releasing these critically important marine animals has been a joint conservation effort of the Aquarium and Mass Audubon for more than 25 years. Over that time, the Aquarium has rehabbed and eventually arranged for the release of thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the world’s most endangered sea turtle species.

sea turtle hospital in Quincy

For many years, the first stranded turtles typically arrived in early November. With warmer water temperatures over the last several years, that date is often a week or two later. Sea turtles will continue to strand on Cape Cod until mid- to late December, depending on the weather. From 2000 to 2010, an average stranding year yielded about 90 live sea turtles, but over the last several years, that average has exploded to more than 300 live sea turtles each season.

With a count of 110 sea turtles treated over the past two weeks and with three to four weeks to go in the stranding season, the exceptional effort across several states, dozens of organizations, and hundreds of people is hopefully on target to help in the effort to save the world’s most endangered sea turtles.

The Aquarium’s marine animal rescue program has increasingly focused on sea turtle conservation. Each ticket purchased by a visitor at the New England Aquarium as well as private donations help. supports this complex rescue effort.

Learn more about the sea turtle rescue effort

Conservation Context

The world’s seven species of sea turtles have roamed the oceans for hundreds of millions of years. But today, most of these species are endangered and all are threatened due to unprecedented threats from humans, including fishing bycatch, entanglement, boat strike, poaching, loss of nesting habitat, pollution, oil spills, and climate change.