November and December’s chilly winds and cooling temperatures have resulted in 195 hypothermic sea turtles being rescued from Cape Cod beaches and taken to the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy.

There, the turtles are rewarmed and medically treated. Many turtles have been flown to aquariums, zoos, and rehabilitation facilities in Florida, Georgia, and Maryland so that we can make room for more turtles. As temperatures continue drop, smaller sea turtles usually cannot survive, but larger loggerhead turtles could potentially strand and need medical treatment.

Connie Merigo at seat turtle hospital in Quincy
Connie Merigo, the Aquarium’s Rescue Department Manager, checks on several sea turtles at the Aquarium's Quincy Animal Care Center. (Photos and video: Vanessa Kahn)

 “What happens is that sea turtles get stuck on Cape Cod when winter temperatures and winds move in come November,” said Connie Merigo, the Aquarium’s Rescue Department Manager. “Our partners at the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have volunteers who walk the beaches and rescue these cold-stunned turtles. They come to our facility in Quincy, where we treat them for hypothermia and sometimes pneumonia. Over the last decade, we have seen an increasing number of turtles, up from an average of 90 a year to more than 300.”

“I think we will have another week or so to the season and will likely be done by or before Christmas,” said Merigo, who added the Quincy facility admitted on Tuesday a 22-pound loggerhead sea turtle that had a core body temperature of 44 degrees. “With a turtle this small coming in alive, it usually signifies that there are larger loggerheads still alive out there as well.”

sea turtle at Quincy facility
A sea turtle is assisted while it swims.

The Aquarium’s longstanding and highly respected care for sea turtles is the inspiration for this year’s ice sculpture, which will be in place on Central Wharf for the winter school vacation and First Night in Boston.

North Andover ice sculptor Don Chappelle is beginning to sculpt sea turtles in their ocean habitat in his Lawrence studio. He will assemble the large blocks of ice on Central Wharf on December 26, weather permitting.

Increasingly, the Aquarium’s marine animal rescue program has focused on sea turtle conservation by rescuing, rehabilitating, and then releasing the turtles back into the ocean. Many of the turtles are highly endangered and face risks of boat and propeller strikes, fishing gear entanglements, and plastic ingestion due to human activity.

The species are usually juvenile Kemp’s ridley, the most endangered sea turtle in the world, along with green and loggerhead sea turtles. Over the years, the Aquarium has treated and released thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in an effort to restore the population in the wild.

While in Quincy, the turtles are treated for a variety of life-threatening medical conditions that are a result of weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed. These medical problems include emaciation, severe dehydration, pneumonia, blood disorders, kidney problems, and shell and bone fractures. Visitors to the Aquarium are supporting this complex rescue, care, and release effort when they purchase their tickets.

Turtles are treated at the Aquarium's Quincy facility

Charlie Innis vet at Aquarium
Dr. Charlie Innis examines a sea turtle at the Aquarium's Quincy facility.

Learn more about our sea turtle rescue program

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.