When temperatures went down last week, the sea turtle population temporarily went up at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. On Friday, the Aquarium welcomed 15 marine reptiles rescued from area waters after temperatures turned dangerously cold for them.
Researchers from the North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology gave the turtles a lift offshore Saturday, after the animals had warmed up and rested overnight in the Aquarium’s behind-the-scenes holding tanks. The new arrivals were young green sea turtles, weighing between five and 15 pounds. Most were found in distress in Core Sound, with a few from Shackleford Banks.
Because sea turtles are cold-blooded and can’t tolerate winter weather, most usually head to the warmer Gulf Stream waters or migrate south when the seasons change. Those that stay behind and get caught in a sudden chill suffer a potentially fatal condition called cold-stunning, similar to hypothermia in humans. Their heart rates and other functions slow, making them too lethargic to swim. They can die from prolonged exposure.
A loggerhead hatchling from Virginia the Aquarium had been caring for, and 95 loggerhead hatchlings that had been at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach also were released. Two dozen or so loggerhead hatchlings that suffered a chill remain behind the scenes in the sea turtle nursery area at the Aquarium. The tiny turtles came from two late-hatching Onslow Beach nests. They also will be released after they recover and gain strength.
The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is among facilities that work with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) to provide care for cold-stunned turtles and weak hatchlings. NCWRC coordinates sea turtle rescues, rehabilitation and releases and monitors nesting and hatching activity in the state.