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Two women look at X-ray of a turtle on computer screen

Veterinarian Michele Sims (left) and WHSA lead aquarium biologist Kristy Owen review an X-ray of one of the Kemp's ridley turtles. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heather Soulen, NEFSC

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turtle rests on top of box
Each turtle is numbered with a flipper band tag, and has the number on their shell. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heather Soulen, NEFSC

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December 8, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Cold-Stunned Turtles Find Temporary Home at Woods Hole Science Aquarium

Six Kemp’s ridley sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod beaches in recent weeks are recovering at NOAA Fisheries’ Woods Hole Science Aquarium (WHSA).

The animals, the smallest of the endangered marine turtles, came ashore in November after being cold stunned – a kind of hypothermia – when local water temperatures suddenly dropped.

They were rescued by staff members of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and sent to the New England Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass. The center acts much like a hospital triage or emergency center, where veterinarians and animal care specialists evaluate the condition and injuries of each turtle and identify any complications caused by stranding. The center treats about 90 sea turtles a year, although a record 733 were treated in 2014.

Once the turtles are stable, the New England Aquarium sends the animals to smaller facilities such as the Woods Hole Science Aquarium to continue rehabilitation until they have regained full health and can be released back to the wild.

The Woods Hole Science Aquarium’s Kristy Owen, lead aquarium biologist, and veterinarian Michele Sims picked up the six turtles on November 29. They were transported in banana boxes to the aquarium, where they are recovering in a brand-new large holding pool built for this purpose. To help with and monitor their recovery, the turtles get fluids for dehydration and antibiotics, are x-rayed, and have regular blood tests.

“Each of the turtles is getting individual medical care depending on their condition, and all are doing well,” said Sarah Trudel, a staff member at the WHSA. “One has shell damage, possibly from a ship strike. The vet checks on them daily, and we check on them frequently. They are eating and are swimming around their holding tank, where the water temperature is currently 75 degrees but can be adjusted as needed.”

The animals are not on public display since they are under veterinary care.

WHSA may receive more turtles in the next few weeks. The Woods Hole Science Aquarium has been helping sea turtles recovering from cold-stunning since the 1990s.

Video compilation of cold-stunned turtles at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heather Soulen, NEFSC