Published on December 19, 2019

Fall Sea Turtle Stranding Season Brings Media But Few Turtles

Thomas Underwood checks for turtles as BBC crew films him

This hasn't been a big season for turtle rescue. The 2019 cold-stun sea turtle stranding season was just nearing the 300-turtle mark as of mid-December.

The reason why there have been relatively few strandings this year isn't clear. It could be a combination of factors, such as the frequent southerly winds we had in early fall pushing turtles out of Cape Cod Bay. Or perhaps more turtles simply bypassed—or didn't make it as far north as—Cape Cod last summer.

Stranding numbers do vary from year to year. In 2013, the year before our record-breaking cold-stun season, we had only about 200 turtles.

While 2019 may not be shaping up to be a busy season for strandings, it has proven to be a very big year for media interest in the cold-stun phenomenon.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post sent reporters to the Cape to capture the story. And it wasn't just print media outlets who were interested.

Silverback Films—which produces award-winning nature and science films for the BBC—devoted more than a week to walking beaches with volunteers, flying a drone, and accompanying our staff on a boat into Cape Cod Bay to search for turtles. Their footage will be part of an upcoming BBC documentary series called Perfect Planet.

Director emeritus Bob Prescott says while rescuing sea turtles is an appealing story, climate change is the most important aspect of it. "With the Gulf of Maine being one of the fastest warm bodies of water on earth, sea turtle strandings are a dramatic and visible result of what we are doing to our planet."