QUINCY, Mass. — With the annual sea turtle cold-stunning season coming to a close in mid-January, there are still dozens of turtles who are in critical condition at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy.
Cold-stunning occurs when turtles become stranded in waters that are too cold for them, which often happens in fall and early winter in Cape Cod Bay.
Wildlife officials say they treated almost 400 live sea turtles, but 53 of them required longer-term treatment for life-threatening medical conditions.
“This is the time of year when we shift our operations from triaging and stabilizing hundreds of turtles to the next critical phase,” said Adam Kennedy, Director of Rescue and Rehabilitation at the New England Aquarium. “At this point, the focus is on those turtles that were too sick to be transported: Ensuring that the proper medical treatment is given, spending long hours coaxing the turtles to eat, and keeping a watchful eye on all of these animals’ behavior.”
The turtles will spend several months undergoing treatment for pneumonia, sepsis, bone infection, and dehydration, a result of becoming unable to regulate their body temperature in the cold waters of Cape Cod Bay.
However, aquarium staff has a tradition of naming the turtles who receive months-long care, with this year’s theme being flowers. The group includes Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles Rose, Peony, and Marigold.
Several loggerhead sea turtles are being cared for including Water Lily, Dogwood, and Bird of Paradise. Individual treatment plans are created for each turtle.
“With changing ocean temperatures pushing these turtles out past their normal habitats, the number of turtles being caught in waters too cold for their survival is increasing,” said Leslie Weinstein, president of Turtles Fly Too, an organization dedicated to providing medivac support to turtles found stranded on the beach. Their network includes a fleet of volunteer pilots who pick the turtles up and fly them to the nearest rehab centers.
This year, wildlife officials transported 303 turtles from cold-shocked waters.
The Aquarium plans to release the majority of its rehabilitated sea turtles off Cape Cod into Nantucket Sound once the water temperature is warm enough this summer. Turtles that are ready to return to their ocean home sooner may be transported further south for release in the springtime.
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