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Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles Saved from Frigid Waters

Nov 22, 2014 12:27 PM EST

Numerous cold-stunned sea turtles, among them the critically endangered Kemp's ridley, were saved from frigid waters off the East Coast on Thursday.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that rely on their environment to control their body temperature, a press release reports. Usually during the fall season sea turtles migrate to warmer waters. But if they are unlucky enough to get caught in coastal waters when water temperatures drop, they suffer from hypothermia - also known as cold-stunning.

And the recent Arctic blast is causing situations of cold-stunning along the East Coast far earlier than usual, resulting in sea turtle strandings.

A band of 15 sea turtles were admitted to the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program after Boston's New England Aquarium was inundated with more than 150 cold-stunned sea turtles this past week. The new batch of hypothermic turtles included 14 Kemp's ridleys and one green turtle.

"All are being evaluated, with some in more serious condition than others," Dr. Terry Norton, director and veterinarian at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, which also received 16 turtle patients, told The Brunswick News.

"There will definitely be more coming here for treatment, and if this early batch is any indication, we will need more room and tanks to help them," he added.

The turtles will remain at the center from two to four weeks before being released in warmer waters off Florida.

Symptoms of cold-stunning include decreased heart and respiration rates, decreased circulation and lethargy, all followed by shock, pneumonia and, in worst case scenarios, death.

This is bad news especially for Kemp's ridley turtles, the most endangered of all the sea turtles. There are only 1,000 females left able to nest and contribute to the species' survival, according to National Geographic. And if they didn't have enough to worry about with the frigid East Coast waters, a recent study also showed that the infamous 2010 BP spill may be contributing to their decline.

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