Our Aquarist Shoshana has flown back to the New England Aquarium Rescue Centre on the East Coast of America to continue her work rehabilitating cold stunned sea turtles. She originally travelled to Massachusetts at the end of 2018 to begin her work with the team there.
As winter approaches, sea turtles should make their way south to warmer tropical waters as the waters around Cape Cod Bay become too cold. However, each year many turtles do not make the journey in time. Trapped by the hook shape of the bay, they can become disoriented. When the water reaches about 10°C by mid-November, the turtles are too cold to eat, drink or swim and become “cold-stunned”, stranding themselves on the beach. Often they are suffering from life-threatening hypothermia, emaciation, dehydration or other injuries. The centre rescued over 400 turtles over winter in 2018, one of their highest figures at the time.
During this trip Shoshana has been able to use her expertise to also assist at the Wellbeck Visitor Centre whose staff coordinate a huge team of around 200 volunteers that are key to the rescue process. After high tides, volunteers often brave tricky weather conditions and head out to walk the beaches looking for turtles who’ve become stranded. This means they are regularly out in the very early hours of the morning with high tides occurring at 3am and 3pm during Shoshana’s visit. Two three hour round trips are then made to the New England Aquarium Rescue centre each day, transporting the stranded turtles ready to be treated and rehabilitated before being released.
The turtles are given a thorough rehab process, so they’re ready to be re-established in their natural habitat. The primary aim is to gradually warm the turtles from their cold-stunned state by slowly introducing them to swimming groups with slightly warmer water in each one. Ultimately they move up to the recommended temperature and larger pools where they are encouraged to feed once again. Throughout the process they also receive medical care specific to the needs of each turtle including things like antibiotics, a fluid plan, emergency meds, exams and x-rays. This year, Shoshana’s role has been expanded to work on the turtles’ fluid plans. Vets use blood results to determine the individual fluid plan that’s required and these are then administered accordingly.
After treating over 400 turtles over the same time period last year, there’s been a drop in numbers in 2019. It’s thought it’s a combination of the water in the bay being slightly warmer than it was last year, and the wind speeds have been too low to help the turtles make their way to the shore.