Aquarium cares for 27 cold-stunned sea turtles

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PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. (WNCT) Last week, North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores received 23 cold-stunned green and four Kemp’s ridley sea turtles found from throughout the area.

“Our area had a large cold-stunning event last Thursday. We received several greens from a variety of local places, and then a large group was recovered by rangers on Cape Lookout. One loggerhead and over 100 green sea turtles were recovered from Cape Lookout National Seashore,” said aquarist and sea turtle specialist Michele Lamping. “Seventy-four of this large group were alive upon arrival at Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City where they received physicals and initial treatments Thursday evening. Most of the rescued turtles are juvenile green sea turtles, but there are a few Kemp’s ridley turtles, as well. They were caught in cold water temperatures near shore, unable to swim to warmer waters due to a hypothermia-like response.”

The turtles were dispersed to rehabilitation facilities along the coast.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher took 15 sea turtles.

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Center in Surf City took the majority.

The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island had its own large event a few days prior and already had 178 turtles.

After the initial cold-stunning event, additional turtles came to the aquarium.

“On Friday we received four turtles from STAR. Saturday, four of our critical cases went to the Beasley Center, and we received three more new standings (two Kemp’s and one more green),” said Lamping. “On Sunday four of the greens were sent back out for a release.”

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, which means their surroundings determine their body temperature.

Normally, when a turtle senses the changing temperature, it heads for warmer waters, said Lamping.

Yet, if they don’t leave, or if the temperature drops too fast, they become lethargic and unable to swim or fend for themselves.

“The waves and wind can push them onto the shore, and they can be severely injured or die,” Lamping said.

Upon arrival, the veterinary team checks the sea turtles for pneumonia and any injuries, said aquarist John Mauser.

“The care team slowly warms up the turtles, and makes sure they can swim, lift their heads out of the water to breathe, and eat,” said Mauser. If they can’t eat, the team will provide fluids, so the turtles won’t dehydrate.

Some turtles make a quick recovery, but others may need extra time and care.

Once the turtles are healthy and have a final veterinary check, they are ready to be released.

They are taken offshore to warmer waters.

The release crew tries to find temperatures as close to 70 degrees as possible when releasing the turtles.

Aquarium staff and veterinary teams perform regular health checks on the turtles and, before release, place a microchip tag in each one, in what would be the shoulder area of the sea turtle.

The chip can be scanned and, if the turtle ever re-strands in the future, information for that turtle can be retrieved.

The effort to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles is led by N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which has collaborated with many federal, state and private organizations in the effort, including the North Carolina Aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and National Marine Fisheries Service.

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