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Over 100 "Cold-Stunned" Sea Turtles Rescued From Cape Cod Shores

Dec 21, 2015 02:53 PM EST
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
Nearly 120 cold-stunned sea turtles have washed up along the shores of Cape Cod Bay.
(Photo : Flickr: Terry Ross)

Massachusetts Audubon Society volunteers have rescued nearly 120 cold-stunned sea turtles from shores of Cape Cod Bay in what officials say is a "late-season stranding."

While sea turtles thrive in Cape Cod during the summer, getting stuck up north this late in the winter could be potentially fatal for these cold-blooded reptiles that rely on external sources for heat. That's because when temperatures drop the turtles risk hypothermia or cold stunning. Generally, sea turtles find themselves stranded on Cape Cod beaches around Thanksgiving during their regular migration south for the winter, according to the Boston Globe.

Furthermore, officials say the majority of turtles found on the beaches of Wellfleet, Truro, Eastham, and Brewster were Kemp's ridley sea turtles - a critically endangered and rare type of sea turtle.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles are one of more common species found stranded on Massachusetts beaches, however they are also widely distributed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic seaboard, from Florida to New England. These animals are considered the smallest marine turtles in the world, measuring up to 28 inches in length as a full-grown adult. Their diet mainly includes swimming crabs, but they are also known to snack on fish, jellyfish or mollusks.

Despite the lateness of this stranding event, 60 percent of the animals recovered survived and are being treated at the New England Aquarium's animal care facility in Quincy. Researchers believe the warmer-than-normal temperatures contributed to their high survival rate.

"In other years, most turtles still stranded in the bay by now would likely be dead," Bob Prescott, a spokesman for Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, told the Boston Globe.

Researchers will spend the next few days slowly warming the animals' body temperatures, as to not shock them all over again. The other turtles that died from hypothermia will undergo necropsies for scientific research.

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