Cold sea turtles get warm welcome at Aquarium

Filed under: Pine Knoll Shores by pineknollshores on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores gave a warm welcome to eight sea turtles recovering from the effects of icy New England waters. The turtles are all Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest sea turtle species and considered endangered. They were among hundreds of sea turtles recently rescued off Cape Cod after water temperatures dipped dangerously low for the cold-blooded reptiles.

NCA-PKS Michele Lamping with Kemp's ridley 2The New England Aquarium and its sea turtle hospital has been taking in rescued turtles by the dozen. As the numbers kept climbing, other aquariums were called upon to shelter animals stable enough for transport. The North Carolina Aquariums at Fort Fisher and on Roanoke Island also expected to receive some of the stricken turtles.

Because these marine reptiles can’t tolerate winter weather, most head to warmer waters when the seasons change. Lingering turtles caught in a sudden chill suffer a potentially deadly condition called “cold-stunning,” similar to hypothermia in humans. Their heart rates and other functions slow, leaving them lethargic and unable to swim. Prolonged exposure can cause paralysis, and the turtles float on the surface or wash up on beaches. Eventually they go into shock, and many die.

The turtles were examined by veterinarians in New England and in North Carolina. They are behind the scenes at the Aquarium. They will be released w nca-pks kemp's in handoffshore as soon as they recover and transportation can be arranged, which could be days, weeks or months. Cold-stunning occurs in North Carolina waters also. A cold-stunned green sea turtle recently found near Cape Lookout is recovering at the Aquarium. The numbers vary widely according to weather patterns, but some cold-stunned turtles are brought to the Aquarium for care almost every winter. See a video  on how the Aquarium helps these creatures.

Sea turtles are protected by federal law. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission monitors sea turtle rescues, rehabilitation,  releases and nesting and hatching activity in the state. If you come across a stranded sea turtle, dead or alive, call the NCWRC at 252-241-7367 or 252-728-1528.