Published on November 14, 2022

Cape’s Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle Season is Underway

ridley at SSM2_ML

It’s that time of year! Cape Cod is the only place in the world where hundreds of endangered and threatened sea turtles strand each fall due to cold-stunning. Comparable to hypothermia, cold-stunning occurs when sea turtles become trapped in Cape Cod Bay and are unable to migrate south to warmer waters.

Wellfleet Bay’s sea turtle program includes a staff of seven and 200 volunteers to patrol bayside beaches, retrieve cold-stun turtles, and transport them to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation. But anyone can help save the life of a sea turtle if they happen to find one.

If You Find a Sea Turtle on the Beach

Because turtles can strand at almost any time of the day, many are found by casual beach walkers. So, what should you so if you discover a sea turtle ?

“Please never return a sea turtle to the water!” says program coordinator Jess Ciarcia. “When a sea turtle strands, it’s very compromised and requires medical attention. They’re not like seals—they don’t bask on the beach. Returning a turtle to the water will very likely result in its death.”

Instead, sea turtle finders are asked to move the turtle above the highest wrack line (the seaweed line) and cover it with dry seaweed. “Then, mark the spot well with beach debris—like a piece of driftwood or a rope,” Jess adds. The final step is to call the sanctuary’s sea turtle stranding hotline at 508-349-2615, extension 6104. The hotline is covered 24/7.

Turtle Staff Includes Veterans

Joining Jess on the cold-stun team this year are last summer’s diamondback terrapin field techs, Dylan Marat and Sasha Milsky. It’s Dylan’s second sea turtle season. Returning for a third year is Michaela Wellman, who is serving as volunteer coordinator. Another familiar face, Elora Grahame, a member of the sea turtle staff  from 2016-2018, was also a bird banding station assistant. And making her Wellfleet Bay debut is Sammi Chaves, most recently from Biodiversity Works on Martha’s Vineyard and a former staffer with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society on Long Island, NY.

Sanctuary Director Emeritus Bob Prescott, founder of Wellfleet Bay's sea turtle program, will continue to direct daily beach coverage.