2018’s First Cold-stunned Sea Turtles Rescued from Cape Beaches
Michael P. O'Connor
WELLFLEET, MA.—Cape Cod’s cold-stun season for vulnerable sea turtles has started with the October 22 rescue by Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary staff members of four Kemp’s ridleys, the most endangered sea turtles in the world. The marine reptiles were found on beaches in Eastham and Brewster.
Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest species of sea turtle that usually strand due to cold-stunning.
Most of the turtles were transported to the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy where they will receive treatment and rehabilitation before being released back into the wild.
Endangered and threatened sea turtles, which feed in Cape Cod Bay during the summer, become cold-stunned after becoming trapped by the Cape’s hook-shaped geography. Unable to migrate south to warmer waters, the turtles’ body temperatures fall with the water temperature and their systems start to shut down.
Like last year, this fall’s cold-stun strandings began before the surface temperature of Cape Cod Bay dropped to 50 degrees, when turtles usually begin to wash ashore. The current temperature in the bay is 57 degrees.
During the fall and early winter of 2017, 420 cold-stunned sea turtles washed up along the Cape’s beaches. Over the past four decades, sea turtle strandings in the fall have been rising, with an all-time high of more than 1200 turtles rescued in 2014. The reasons for the phenomenon aren’t clear, but much warmer waters in the Gulf of Maine and increased nesting productivity for some sea turtle species may be two factors.
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