Rehabilitated sea turtles, rescued from Cape Cod, are released off the Outer Banks
By Kari Pugh | Editor
Packed in banana boxes, more than two dozen of the world’s most endangered sea turtles began a journey from New England to North Carolina last week, arriving at Cape Hatteras National Seashore for a return back to the ocean.
Twenty-five Kemp’s ridley turtles, along with one loggerhead too big for a banana box, spent months in rehabilitative careafter suffering cold stunning — a type of hypothermia in reptiles exposed to cold water for prolonged periods — over the winter in Cape Cod.
The turtles, released into the warm water across from the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, included 10 turtles from the New England Aquarium, five from Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, five from Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in New York, and six from New York Marine Rescue Center.
Staff and volunteers from a New England wildlife sanctuary rescued the turtles from Cape Cod beaches between November and January, said Adam Kennedy, New England Aquarium’s rescue manager.
Turtles hampered by cold stunning float to the surface and are unable to move. Much like humans battling the flu, recovery depends on the turtle as well as length of exposure, overall size and health and whether they also come down with upper respiratory infections or pneumonia. All need to be eating well and pass a swim test to return to the ocean.
Most of the turtles released Monday were triaged at the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital and spent months at the rehabilitative facilities, receiving treatment for conditions including pneumonia and dehydration.
With the ocean off North Carolina warm enough in the springtime for the turtles to survive, the New England Aquarium organized a turtle caravan, leaving last Wednesday and stopping to pick up turtles from other rehab facilities along the way.
During the trip, the aquarium van’s temperature was set for the water temperature at the release site, about 66 degrees. The turtles received fluids to prepare them for a return to the ocean.
“They’ve been off medications for a month now, eating well and acting like they want to go,” Kennedy said.
And go they did. After aquarium staff opened the banana boxes near the surf, the rehabbed turtles flapped fins and scooted into the sea.
Among the turtles released was a Kemp’s ridley that had surgery to remove an ingested balloon ribbon that extended from outside its beak, through its digestive tract, and out its posterior, the New England Aquarium said in a news release.
“Aquarium staff originally intended to release the turtle, named ‘Star Anise,’ by staff, this summer off of Cape Cod, but the turtle recovered more quickly than anticipated and was able to join the N.C. transport,” the release said. “Other turtles released included “Bay Leaf,” “Sage,” and “Chicory”— in keeping with this year’s naming theme of spices.”
Cold stunning is an annual event, both in New England and along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. This past winter, Cape Cod beaches saw more than 500 sea turtles stranded due to cold stunning, Kennedy said. The remaining turtles in New England Aquarium care will be released off Cape Cod in the summer months, once the waters have warmed.
Kari Pugh, email@example.com