Published on December 12, 2022

Cold-stunned Sea Turtle Season is Busier and “Greener” than Most

Staff looking over a green sea turtle © Andrea Spence
© Andrea Spence

This year’s sea turtle rescue season has logged more than 800 turtles so far, but it’s not clear yet if it'll be among our busiest years when 1,000 or more turtles have stranded. While we await the final turtle tally, we already know 2022 will be remembered for at least a couple of things.

First, we’ve seen an unusually high number of Green sea turtles—75 to date. Greens are less cold-tolerant than the far more common Kemp’s ridley or Loggerhead, and we typically get a dozen or two most years. It’s also been a year in which more cold-stunned sea turtles than ever have been rescued on Nantucket. Thanks to Hy-Line Cruises, nine turtles were able to hitch free ferry rides to the Cape. Most of those commuting turtles were also Greens.

Why So Many Greens?

Sea turtle program manager Bob Prescott, who’s marking his 43rd cold-stun season, says the relatively high number of Green sea turtles this fall may be because last summer was one of the warmest on record for the Gulf of Maine, which includes Cape Cod Bay. “Years ago, we were lucky to get a Green every other two or three years, but it’s been going up every year," Bob notes. "The sharp jump this year may be due to a summer incursion of warm surface water, maybe from the Gulf Stream, or possibly Hurricane Fiona passing offshore in August.”

A Twice-Cold Turtle

Staff holding a Ridley sea turtle © Andrea Spence
© Andrea Spence

While we’ve had more Green sea turtles than usual, we’ve rescued far more Kemp’s ridleys, a critically endangered species, and the turtle that makes up the largest share of the ones we rescue. As it turns out, one of those ridleys is undergoing its second hospital stay of the year. The ridley, rescued in Truro, had an internal PIT tag (similar to pet microchips) revealing that it was a turtle that cold-stunned in North Carolina last winter. It was successfully rehabbed and released, only to swim north and become stuck in Cape Cod Bay this fall!

As always, kudos to our intrepid sea turtle volunteers, who’ve already walked miles of beaches, often twice a day for many days in a row, sometimes on very dark and cold nights; driven turtles twice daily to rehab facilities; pitched in last minute when things got busy; or dropped off extra banana boxes and fresh towels whenever the need arose. We’re in the final stretch, and it will be interesting to see what else this cold-stun season brings in the weeks ahead.

Supporting Sea Turtle Rescue

Mass Audubon’s Sea Turtle Rescue and Recovery Program is the largest annual cold-stun program in the world. But we need your support to remain the first line of defense to rescue and protect sea turtles in waters off Cape Cod. Please note that a gift of $1,000 or more invites you to our Leadership Friend program, our highest level of membership.

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