American Oceans

Over 200 Frozen Turtles Wash Up On Cape Cod Beaches

a large group of turtles on a beach

The New England Aquarium has been treating over 200 hypothermic sea turtles found on Massachusetts shores since early November. These cold-stunned turtles were discovered by staff members and volunteers of the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary who patrol the Cape Cod Bay beaches, bringing them to the aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy for treatment. A total of 214 sea turtles have been treated this season.

Cold-stunned turtles get stranded on Cape Cod shores during the fall due to rapidly changing water temperatures and wind patterns. Hundreds of turtles are unable to escape the hook-shaped Cape before becoming hypothermic. The presence of sea turtles in Hull and Hingham may indicate their inhabitation of a wider range of areas in Massachusetts Bay.

This stranding season had a slower start compared to previous years, but the situation has escalated in recent weeks, as the aquarium’s director of rescue and rehabilitation, Adam Kennedy, stated they received 134 turtles in just five days. The majority of the turtles treated this season have been 189 Kemp’s ridley turtles, followed by 19 green turtles, and six loggerheads.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the aquarium staff conducts a comprehensive physical exam, bloodwork, and X-rays before deciding on a treatment plan. These turtles often suffer from dehydration, pneumonia, and cracked shells. Dr. Kathryn Tuxbury, the aquarium’s senior veterinarian, mentioned that most of the turtles are critically ill and need an array of medical treatments for their survival.

Some turtles require hospitalization for weeks, months, or even over a year before they can be released back into the ocean. As the Quincy turtle hospital reaches its capacity, the New England Aquarium collaborates with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service and other organizations to transport and treat the turtles.

Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit organization that uses airplanes to transport sea turtles to rehabilitation facilities across the country, recently flew 35 turtles from Massachusetts to North Carolina rescue centers. Additionally, another 15 turtles were driven to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

Turtles with more severe medical conditions will continue to be treated in Quincy, completing their treatment program before being released back into the ocean by spring or summer.

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