Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Flown to Florida

A Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle like this one found in , photo courtesyWikimedia Commons
A Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle like this one found in , photo courtesyWikimedia Commons

On Thursday, Jan. 7, a Coast Guard Auxiliary flight crew from the 1st District Southern Region flew 24 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles from Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida, where they will undergo further treatment and rehabiltation at Sea World Orlando before eventually being returned to the ocean. The plane took off from Marshfield Airport at approximately 8:30 am, stopped in Elizabeth City, NC to refuel, and landed in Orlando around 5:00 pm.

 These dinner-plate sized turtles enter Northeast bays and coastal waters in the summer. Some appear to stay too long into the fall, and those in Cape Cod Bay are blocked from warmer waters offshore and south by the arm of the Cape. As the water cools further, these cold-blooded reptiles experience a hypothermic reaction to the cold water temperatures; they have slow breathing and heart rates, are lethargic, thin, and often sick with pneumonia.

Since late fall, volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have collected more than 500 sea turtles, the second highest cold-stun season in Massachusetts ever. While most were Kemp’s ridleys, several green sea turtles and larger loggerhead sea turtles also stranded. With such a large influx of patients, the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, MA, was running out of space to treat and rehabilitate the ailing turtles.