On Tuesday morning, six of the world’s most endangered sea turtles were carried down a Cape Cod beach cloaked in a late summer fog by volunteers who had either rescued or cared for them.

The 10- to 15-pound, black-shelled Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were placed on the sand of West Dennis Beach about 50 feet from the water. Five of the six quickly became aware of the odor and sound of the sea, which they had not swum in for eight months. They slowly clawed their way to the water’s edge and then disappeared into the surf as a dense fog lay over the water.

Sea Turtle Release

As you can see in the video, the sixth turtle—“Fuzzy Wuzzy”, a 12-pounder who had stranded in Truro, MA, near the tip of Cape Cod last December 8—was unsure of what to do. After a brief wait, a rescuer picked up the turtle and gently placed it in the surf, where instinctively its large front flippers engaged, and it swam off.

volunteer shows turtle to public on beach
An Aquarium volunteer shows off one of the soon-to-be released sea turtles.

For these volunteers with the New England Aquarium and Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, this was the completion of a positive circle of life. The two Mass Audubon volunteers are beach walkers who walked chilly Cape Cod Bay beaches last November and December searching for an inert, round mass hidden under seaweed or lying motionless in ankle-deep water. The treasured objects of their painstaking effort were endangered sea turtles near death due to hypothermia.

The turtles were then transported to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA. Veterinarians, biologists, and dozens of volunteers there admitted and cared for nearly 300 sea turtles covered in algae and barnacles, most often looking dead with body temperatures in the 40s or 50s. After a few days of very slow rewarming, the turtles were then swimming in large tanks, but most were still quite ill, suffering from emaciation, pneumonia, severe dehydration, broken flipper bones, cracked shells, and a host of organ problems.

Most of those sea turtles finished their recovery and rehab in two to four months and were flown or driven south for release. However, these six turtle were the most profoundly and chronically ill of the 2017 sea turtle stranding season. The turtles and their caregivers persisted.

As you read this, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Peach, Artichoke, Midnight Blue, Copper, and Antique Brass are all swimming in the waters just off Cape Cod, hunting for crabs and enjoying the freedom of the ocean.

More Release Pictures