Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Turtle Stranding Season: Loggerheads Wash Up on South Shore Instead of Cape Cod

This is a media release cross posted on the Aquarium's Rescue Blog. Learn how you can support the Aquarium and its efforts to rehabilitate and protect endangered marine animals. It's been quite a year, the 164 sea turtles rescued alive this year smashes the old record of 127 set in 1999!

Anyone who finds a sea turtle on the South Shore, whether alive or appearing dead, should call the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Hotline at 617-973-5247 or contact their local animal control officer.

Hypothermic sea turtles continue to wash up in record numbers on Cape Cod. But in an unusual twist, two large loggerhead sea turtles have stranded on South Shore beaches since Monday. Today, Hull animal control officer Casey Fredette retrieved a live loggerhead from Nantasket Beach while on Monday another 40 pounder was rescued in the Humarock section of Scituate.

A loggerhead rescued from Nantasket Beach

Cold-stunned sea turtles  strand annually on Cape Cod but almost always on the southern and eastern beaches of Cape Cod Bay from Sandwich to Truro. Typically, the northwest and northeast winds of late autumn create enough wave activity to drive the floating, nearly immobile marine reptiles ashore on those windward towns. Strandings on the South Shore are very rare events, and normally are confined to the discovery of long dead, smaller turtles early in the winter.

Hardy beach walkers on Cape Cod are familiar with the drill of what to do when they encounter stranded sea turtles as they call the Mass Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay, which is the sea turtle first responder organization for the Cape. However, for South Shore residents, this is an unusual event. Earlier in the week, well-meaning but misdirected beach walkers tried to return a hypothermic sea turtle to the frigid waters that it was trying to escape. Those finding a sea turtle on the South Shore, whether alive or appearing dead, should call the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Hotline at 617-973-5247 or contact their local animal control officer. Washed-up sea turtles with body temperatures in the 40’s and with heartbeats as low as one per minute may appear dead but can still be re-warmed and revived at the Aquarium’s off-site animal care center in the Quincy Shipyard.

The Aquarium's chief vet attends to a loggerhead sea turtle patient

Aquarium officials are puzzled by the unusual stranding locations but are asking for the public’s help in watching for more turtles on South Shore beaches. These two loggerheads were easy to see given their fairly large size and beautiful, chestnut brown shells,. However, most of the turtles that wash up are much smaller at 2 to 12 pounds and black in color, which blends in with other flotsam at the high tide line on a beach. These turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, which are the most endangered sea turtle in the world.

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle in treatment at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle during a medical exam

This most strange sea turtle stranding season for many reasons marches on. This past Saturday, 13 hypothermic sea turtles were brought to Quincy from Cape Cod. That is an unusually large number for a single day this late in December. Double digit admission dates are not common and normally happen in November. Among the 13 were 9 loggerhead sea turtles. In a typical year, the Aquarium might treat 4 to 6 large loggerheads in its two month long season. The two additional South Shore loggerheads over the past 24 hours brings the total number of stranded loggerheads total to 45! The 40 to 100 pound loggerheads create a strain on available tank space at the Aquarium’s new sea turtle hospital which has a capacity of about 100 sea turtles.

74 re-warmed and stabilized sea turtles have been transported to other marine animal rescue facilities up and down the East Coast, including 35 sea turtles that were flown from Cape Cod to Florida aboard a Coast Guard plane earlier this month. To help with the overwhelming clinical demand of caring for so many sea turtles, biologists from the Virginia Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Riverhead Foundation on Long Island and IFAW on Cape Cod have been brought in to assist.

The Aquarium welcomes financial donations to help offset the cost of such an unexpected record event. Over the past twenty years, the Aquarium in partnership with Mass Audubon has rescued, rehabbed and released over 1000 endangered sea turtles.

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