BOSTON - It's been a slow start to the annual sea turtle stranding season in Massachusetts, but the New England Aquarium is now treating more than 100 turtles suffering from hypothermia that have been rescued from Cape Cod beaches.
Staff at the aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy, just south of Boston, have cared for 119 sea turtles so far this year: 109 critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtles, eight green turtles and two loggerheads, according to the aquarium.
"After months of planning and preparation, our team has mobilized quickly to triage these animals as temperatures dip in Cape Cod Bay and lead to more and more strandings," Adam Kennedy, manager of Rescue and Rehabilitation at the New England Aquarium, said.
According to the aquarium, the turtles are now receiving treatment for life-threatening medical conditions, including pneumonia and dehydration, as a result of days or weeks of hypothermia and their inability to feed.
Hundreds of turtles wash up on the beaches of Cape Cod every year. Due to the rapidly changing water temperature in the bay, many of the turtles can't escape the hook-like area of Cape Cod before they become hypothermic.
So every year starting in October, staff and volunteers at the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary begin to comb the beaches looking for stranded turtles.
The temperatures in Cape Cod Bay stayed warmer for a more extended period of time this year, so the first few turtles weren't admitted to the hospital until Nov. 17, according to the aquarium.
When the turtles are brought to the hospital, they're given an ID number, a medical record and are examined to see what their illness is, much like a human when they are taken to a hospital.
Once stabilized, the turtles will be cleared for travel to another rehabilitation facility. The aquarium said it works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service to identify rehabilitation centers across the country that can accept the stabilized turtles.
A non-profit organization, Turtles Fly Too, then transports the turtles to those facilities. More than 40 turtles from the New England Aquarium and National Marine Life Center were flown south on Monday, where they will continue rehabilitation before being released back into the ocean.
The partner organizations providing care include the South Carolina Aquarium, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, North Carolina Aquariums, and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.