Published on January 31, 2023

Cold-stunned Season Brings Nearly 900 Sea Turtles to Cape Cod Beaches

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With the 2022 rescue season officially over, we’re closing in on the final tally. As of now, we’ve rescued and recovered 888 sea turtles. Last year, we had over 700 turtles and in 2020 we rescued and retrieved over 1,000 sea turtles. With warming sea surface temperatures due to climate change and successful conservation on southern sea turtle nesting beaches, the big numbers are expected to remain an annual occurrence each fall on Cape Cod. The increasing trend over the 40-plus years of the program is pretty clear.

Season Summary

Of the roughly 900 sea turtles rescued or recovered this fall and winter, most, as usual, have been juvenile Kemp’s Ridleys, the most endangered sea turtle in the world. Interestingly, we encountered 80 Green sea turtles, about 4 times the usual number, and 40 loggerheads, down from what we usually get.

Interpreting the Numbers

Wellfleet Bay’s sanctuary director emeritus and founder of the sea turtle program, Bob Prescott, theorizes that with the warm fall and frequent south and southwest winds, many loggerheads may have found their way out of Cape Cod Bay before the weather got too cold.

As for the unusual influx of Greens? Bob suspects that two September hurricanes that passed well offshore, Earl and Fiona, may have helped push more juvenile Green sea turtles closer the coast.

Turtles by Town

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The town of Eastham was ground zero for cold-stun sea turtles this past fall, due primarily to westerly winds. One hundred and ninety turtles stranded there. Dennis was the next busiest town for cold-stunned turtles at 152. Not far behind was Barnstable, where the extensive Sandy Neck barrier beach and surrounding shorelines snagged 146 turtles during several episodes of northeast winds. Our thanks to the Sandy Neck rangers for patrolling the 6-mile long beach through many wind events, both at day and night.

Turtle Heroes

More than 70% of the sea turtles retrieved from bay beaches this fall were alive, the result of twice-daily beach patrols by more than 170 trained volunteers during stranding conditions, sometimes in the middle of the night, usually in uncomfortable conditions. This season they covered more than 1400 miles of shoreline!

As is often the case, many rescued turtles show few signs of life. But when they do, it's very encouraging!

As turtles arrived at the sanctuary for processing by staff, other volunteers were on standby to drive turtles to the New England Aquarium or the National Marine Life Center for rehab. Our volunteer drivers clocked a total of nearly 14,000 miles to get cold-stunned turtles to these lifesaving facilities in time to benefit from the triage and other critical veterinary care.

Supporting Our Team

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We were very fortunate to have seven turtle staffers this fall, including turtle research coordinator Jessica Ciarcia, sea turtle volunteer coordinator Michaela Wellman, and field technicians Sammi Chaves, Elora Grahame, Dylan Marat, and Sasha Milsky. Bob Prescott was in charge of strategic beach patrol assignment and was the primary voice of the sea turtle hotline outside of daytime business hours!

Donations to the sea turtle rescue program allow us to hire our field staff and purchase critical equipment to rescue, care for, and transport these endangered and threatened animals. We welcome your support throughout the year.