Hypothermic, young sea turtles usually begin stranding on the shores of Cape Cod Bay during the first week of November.

Given the chilly weather of the past two weeks, four endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles made an early appearance on beaches in Eastham and Brewster on the Outer Cape.

The 3- to 5-pound juvenile sea turtles even surprised the staff at the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which organizes hundreds of volunteers late each autumn to walk the chilly beaches in search of the frigid marine reptiles. Three of the turtles were taken to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy late on Monday, and the fourth on Tuesday morning.

gloved hands hold rescued sea turtle

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, which means their body temperatures are normally the same as the water temperature around them. Two of the turtles came into the Aquarium’s rescue facility with body temperatures of 55 degrees F, just two degrees colder than the current Cape Cod Bay water temperature of 57 degrees. However yesterday, the first hypothermic sea turtle of the season was strangely and coincidentally discovered at First Encounter Beach in Eastham with a body temperature of 47 degrees. This particular turtle had probably washed ashore early Sunday night and lost body heat as the overnight low air temperatures dipped into the 40s.

rescued sea turtle rests

The earliest recorded hypothermic sea turtle ever admitted was on October 9, 2001, but typically early arrivals are just individual stragglers. The previous record for multiple wash-ups for a single day was in very late October 2005. Yesterday’s group broke that record by a solid week.

Those young sea turtles spent the night in the ICU of the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital having their temperature stabilized and slowly raised by about five degrees. This morning, they were examined by Aquarium veterinarians and biologists, had blood work done, and were given a little physical therapy with the stimulation of a supported swim in shallow water. The 47-degree turtle is still very lethargic. He arrived with a heartbeat of four beats per minute. That pulse was not up to five in the morning, but the Aquarium’s biologists hope to get it up to 10 to 12 beats per minute by the day’s end.

sea turtle takes swim
The New England Aquarium has been in partnership for more than 25 years with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles.