A total of 52 sea turtles are rehabilitating in Florida today after a Michigan couple flew them to the panhandle for further rehabilitation and eventual release. New England Aquarium rescuers had treated them for hypothermia, but the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Mass., was at capacity and needed to make room for the endangered sea turtles that are still stranding on Cape Cod. The couple responded to an urgent request passed on to the general aviation community looking for volunteer pilots to transport the re-warmed and medically stabilized young sea turtles.

Since last Saturday, the Aquarium has received more than 100 live sea turtles rescued off the frigid beaches of Cape Cod Bay by the staff and volunteers of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy is full, and more sea turtles are expected to strand Friday and Saturday as the weather clears. Temperatures will drop, but more importantly steady, strong winds blowing out of the northwest will create big enough waves to wash many more inert, floating sea turtles onto the beaches of the Outer Cape.

Kemp's ridley turtle swims in rehab
One of the most endangered sea turtles in the world, a Kemp’s ridley, swims in a rehabilitation tank at the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA, after being rescued off Cape Cod and slowly re-warmed over several days.

Friday’s flight departed from the Marshfield Airport and later landed in Panama City on the Florida Panhandle. The lucky sea turtles will finish their rehab at the Gulf World Marine Park. Fifty of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, which is the most endangered sea turtle species in the world, and their primary habitat is in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

rescuer examines loggerhead
New England Aquarium biologist Elizabeth Linske examines a 40-pound loggerhead sea turtle that had recently stranded on Cape Cod due to hypothermia.

November and December have become known as the sea turtle stranding season on Cape Cod. Juvenile sea turtles of three different species arrive in the summer to feed primarily on crabs, but many fail to successfully migrate out due to the challenging navigation in the area. As ocean temperatures drop through the fall, so do the body temperatures of these cold-blooded marine reptiles. Unlike warm-blooded people who require a near constant body temperature, sea turtles can survive across a wide range. Turtles arriving Thursday were inactive but still alive with body temperatures of 48 degrees.

rescuer examines loggerhead
A large loggerhead sea turtle is photographed during intake exam.

New England Aquarium biologists and veterinarians slowly re-warm turtles about five degrees per day over several days. All the turtles are extremely dehydrated, most are emaciated, and about half are treated for pneumonia. Rehabilitation can take from a couple of months to nearly a year.

So far this season, the Aquarium has received 229 live sea turtles. Many re-warmed sea turtles have already been shipped to other rehab facilities up and down the East Coast, including the Pittsburgh Zoo and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. This season’s 229 total is already the fourth largest number in the Aquarium’s quarter century of rehabbing sea turtles.

Watch turtles swim in rehab.

Endangered Sea Turtles in Rehab