The Boston-based New England Aquarium rescued over 150 sea turtles that were suffering symptoms of “cold-stunning,” a life-threatening condition caused by hypothermia.
Earlier this month, volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary collected 120 critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles and 33 green turtles for treatment of the condition. Once safely inside the aquarium’s on-site turtle hospital, these sweet reptiles received the care they so desperately needed. All of the subjects were experiencing dehydration and pneumonia, both of which are indicators of cold-stunning.
Incredibly detrimental to a sea turtle’s health, cold-stunning isn’t a rare occurrence. In fact, hundreds of Cape Cod turtles fall victim to the condition after becoming stranded on the beach. According to the Sanctuary, cold-stunning most frequently occurs when these warm-water reptiles find themselves stuck in Cape Cod Bay. Sadly, once here, these sea turtles cannot travel further south to more suitable environments. They then become extremely vulnerable to the elements and are in need of immediate, professional help.
“When a sea turtle strands, it’s very compromised and requires medical attention. They’re not like seals — they don’t bask on the beach. Returning a turtle to the water will very likely result in its death,” program coordinator Jess Ciarcia explained.
Massachusetts Sees Alarming Increase in Sea Turtle Strandings Within Past Two Decades
Surprisingly, the New England aquarium hasn’t seen cold-stunning cases quite as early as they typically do.
“In years past, cold-stunned sea turtles would begin to wash ashore in late October,” said the aquarium’s director of rescue and rehabilitation, Adam Kennedy.
“Once the turtles arrive at our hospital, our staff physically evaluates the condition of each individual turtle (checks heart rate and respiratory rate) + conducts bloodwork and X-rays, and a specialized care plan is put in place,” the aquarium shared on Instagram shortly after the sea turtles arrived.
Thankfully, many of the aquarium’s recent patients are making a promising recovery. Almost a third are on their way to a secondary facility, meaning they’re one step closer to getting back to warmer waters.
“Volunteer pilots with @turtlesfly2 began transport flights on Sunday, and took 40 turtles to secondary rehab facilities,” the New England Aquarium shared in an update. “The more critical turtles will remain in our care, and we will continue to accept new patients.”
The aquarium reported that sea turtle strandings have steadily increased in Massachusetts within the past 20 years. The number varies from year to year. However, officials have seen overall numbers climb from roughly 50 strandings in 2000 to a whopping 700 in 2021.
Kennedy believes that the exponential increase is the consequence of localized climate change.
“Milder weather means the waters of Cape Cod Bay are staying warmer for a prolonged period of time, which we believe could be a sign of climate change’s impact on the Gulf of Maine,” Kennedy explained.