More cold-stunned turtles return to sea

Filed under: Pine Knoll Shores,Uncategorized by pineknollshores on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Loggerhead release 12-13-13 photo courtesy Avery Paxton

Photo courtesy Avery Paxton, UNC-IMS

Eighteen green sea turtles that had recovered from a bad chill are home in time for the holidays. They and a loggerhead hitched a ride to warmer offshore waters with researchers from the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences (UNC-IMS) last Friday.

The young green sea turtles were brought to the Aquarium after the Thanksgiving cold snap. 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 still in the area when water temperatures drop can 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.

The loggerhead yearling had spent several months at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. It couldn’t make it to the ocean on its own after hatching in the fall of 2012 on a North Carolina Beach, and was brought to the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for care. The Aquarium helps several facilities around the country with sea turtle education programs by providing hatchlings for a limited time. The turtles are released when they are a year or so old.

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.

The turtles got a lift with a UNC-IMS dive team departing from Wilmington to survey offshore reefs. The effort also included people from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, which provided the boat, and NOAA.

The Aquarium already has cared for and released 15 cold-stunned turtles this fall. Several more are recovering in behind-the-scenes holding areas.