The Aquarium bid bon voyage to 21 sea turtles Feb. 15 as they headed back to their ocean home. They had been under the Aquarium’s care for several weeks after suffering a potentially fatal condition known as cold-stunning from winter weather. Another six turtles that had recovered at the Aquarium were released in January.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave the animals a ride away from the chilly coastline to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, 50 or so miles offshore. Because reptiles are cold-blooded, many sea turtles naturally head that way or migrate south in winter. Those that stay behind risk cold-stunning, similar to hypothermia in humans. Most of the turtles in the recent release were young green turtles that had been rescued off Cape Lookout in January. Two greens and two Kemp’s ridleys that had been found along the Outer Banks also left Pine Knoll Shores for the ocean. Typical of cold-stunned animals, the turtles were listless upon arrival at the Aquarium. They quickly responded to medical treatment, nutritious food and expert care.
This success story didn’t end when the turtles went overboard. One of the larger green turtles is tagged with satellite transmitter. Researchers and the public can follow its movements under the name Pamlico at the tracking website, seaturtle.org.
The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the other state Aquariums at Fort Fisher and on Roanoke Island are among facilities that have worked with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) to care for an unusually large number of cold-stunned turtles this winter. Turtles that had recovered at the other two Aquariums, plus some from South Carolina and Virginia, brought the total of turtles in the release effort to nearly 40. Coast Guard vessels based at Ft. Macon are large enough to accommodate the many bulky bins necessary to transport the turtles. The Coast Guard often works with the NCWRC to incorporate offshore turtle releases into its missions.
Sea turtles are protected by federal law. NCWRC coordinates sea turtle rescues, rehabilitation and releases and monitors nesting and hatching activity in the state. If you come across a stranded sea turtle, dead or alive, call NCWRC at 252-241-7367 or 252-728-1528.