During the weekend, volunteers have rescued approximately 120 almost frozen sea turtles at Cape Cod Bay, it has recently been announced.
Members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the largest environmental organization in New England, made a startling discovery when they encountered an extremely uncommon reptile species on the beaches adjacent to Cape Cod Bay, including Eastham, Wellfleet, Brewster and Truro.
More precisely, they found more than a 100 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (also known as Atlantic ridley sea turtles), which are considered to be the rarest sea turtles on Earth, listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The reptiles had washed up on the shore, and were suffering from hypothermia, approximately 40% of them already having perished because of the cold.
Usually, sea turtles in this region spend the first years in the “Loop current ring” from the Sargasso Sea, where the waters are warm and plenty of food sources are available, such as swimming crabs, mollusks, fish and jellyfish.
After a while, during their adolescence, they are driven closer to the eastern shore, under the force of the Gulf Stream current, and once again discover abundant feeding grounds, this time around Cape Cod, where they remain until summer.
However, as winter approaches, they attempt to migrate further south, to warmer waters, and some of them remain trapped, because Cape Cod’s hook-like geography acts like an obstacle in their path.
Like all reptiles, these species are ectotherms, relying on external sources of heat in order to keep themselves warm. Therefore, as water temperatures keep dropping to less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, sea turtles become “cold-stunned”.
This means that they lose control of basic physiological functions such as digestion or movement. They also become extremely weakened, disoriented and thrown off-balance, showing little or no resistance as the powerful wind and large waves push them closer to the shore.
That is how they become stranded, and while Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are indeed are extremely rare species, they are often encountered off the coast of Massachusetts, as the cold season approaches, especially in November, near Thanksgiving Day.
According to Bob Prescott, director of the Wellfleet Wildlife Sanctuary at Mass Audubon, the difference is that in prior years the vast majority of these reptiles would’ve washed up already dead, due to hypothermia.
However, this year water temperatures haven’t been as frigid, and approximately 60% of the sea turtles managed to survive after all.
The ones that had already died by the time volunteers found them will be examined through necropsies, in order to gain further insight into this species, and improve conservation efforts.
The rest have been taken to the Quincy Animal Care Center, affiliated with New England’s Aquarium. There, they will receive treatment and undergo a process of rehabilitation, so that they can eventually be released back into the wild.
As a spokesperson of the Massachusetts Audubon Society has revealed, over 200 sea turtles had been saved in the area ever since November, so now the tally has been brought to more than 320, and might become higher than the one reported in 2012, when 413 animals were rescued.
Nevertheless, the figure would still be lower than the one reported in 2014, when a record-breaking number of 1,200 turtles were found stranded on Cape Cod’s beaches.
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