In late November, hundreds of sea turtles were chilled to their core by incredibly cold temperatures and began washing up on shore. For those that were able to survive the deadly temperatures, scientists across the country are trying to get them back healthy, so they can return to the sea. On Nov. 30, 15 of these sea turtles arrived in town for a rehabilitation stay at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.
Terry Norton, director of the GSTC, said there are a number of maladies that can afflict sea turtles when water temperatures drop too low including pneumonias, bloodstream infections (septicemia), bone infections (osteomyelitis) and other issues.
He said there can be a lot of secondary problems “because they’re ectotherms, they’re cold-blooded, so all of their bodily functions depend on external heat. When they get cold, their immune function is down because they depend on external heat to stimulate their immune systems. So if they’re not at the right temperature, their immune system doesn’t work properly and it’s just like a person getting immunocompromised.
“Because of the cold, they also don’t absorb drugs properly, or tube feeding we wouldn’t do if they were still cold. So these were all warmed up where they came from, and stabilized, but these Kemp’s are still pretty critical.”
Twelve of the 15 turtles are Kemp’s ridleys from the Cape Cod area in Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Times reported Nov. 24 that 219 turtles washed ashore over three days, and 81 of 82 turtles found on Thanksgiving were frozen solid.
“It was like the were flash-frozen, flippers in all weird positions like they were swimming,” Robert Prescott, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, said to the Times.
The 12 that arrived here first went to the New England Aquarium in Quincy, Mass., to warm up and stabilize.
The other three are loggerheads that came from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
“These are all juveniles, so they’re still in the pelagic stage of their lifecycle, so they’re deep-ocean dwelling,” Norton said. “They kind of got stuck in the Cape Cod area. So, they’re all small Kemp’s ridleys — they’re all about this size and two to three years old. The loggerheads are older — they’re big, mature animals. They weren’t necessarily in the pelagic stage of the lifecycle. The loggerheads all seem to be about the same size.”
The rehabilitation process is expected to take several months.