First Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Wash Up on Cape Beaches

Pictured are (left to right) sea turtle volunteer Tim O’Brien,
with Seth Black, Brooke Mazzarella, Lena Flaherty, and Camryn Mazzarella, who found the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Brewster. Photo courtesy of Kim Novino.

WELLFLEET – The first cold-stunned sea turtles of the season were found washed ashore Saturday on bayside beaches.

Volunteers with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary discovered a dead green sea turtle in at Eastham’s South Sunken Meadow Beach and a live Kemp’s ridley at Breakwater Beach in Brewster.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered sea turtle species in the world.

The live turtle will receive medical care and be rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Facility in Quincy.

The turtles, which feed in local waters during the summer, get caught by the region’s geography as they try to migrate south and experience hypothermia like conditions as the waters get colder. The body temperatures of the turtles fall with the water temperature and their systems begin to shut down.

Although much of the bay remains above 50 degrees, the temperature at which turtles generally become cold-stunned, there are shallow areas that can be significantly colder.

Karen Dourdeville, the sea turtles stranding coordinator for Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, says the strandings were the result of Friday’s gusty northwest winds.

“We encourage everyone who visits a bayside beach to keep their eyes open for stranded turtles, even out on the tidal flats,” Dourdeville said.

More turtles are expected to wash ashore in the middle of the week as strong winds are being forecast.

Beach walkers who find a turtle are asked to bring it well above the high tide line and to cover it completely with dry seaweed for protection.

The turtles location should be marked with beach debris and reported to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2615.

More than 800 turtles washed ashore cold-stunned last year on Cape Cod beaches. The number of turtle strandings have been rising since the late 1970s.

A record number of more than 1,200 turtles were found cold-stunned in 2014.

The reason for more turtles stranding aren’t clear to researchers, but warmer waters in the Gulf of Maine and increased nesting productivity for some of the species may be contributing factors.

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant grew up in Central Massachusetts and now lives in South Dennis on the Cape. He has been part of the news team in the NewsCenter since the spring of 2014. He studied radio broadcasting at the University of Tennessee.
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