"Cold-Stunned" Turtles Flown in From Cape Cod for Thanksgiving Rescue Mission


Dec. 1 2020, Updated 12:03 p.m. ET

freezing sea turtle rescue cover
Source: Facebook

In addition to being absolutely adorable and one of the best opening sequences from Moana, sea turtles are also an endangered species. Natural predators and human occupancy of their natural habitats aren't the only threats to these peaceful creatures' lives however, but the gelid waters of winter can prove fatal to the reptilian swimmers.

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Which is why when the staff at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. discovered there were a bunch of sea turtles in Cape Cod, Mass. over the Thanksgiving break, they decided to take action.

Sea turtles aren't able to effectively regulate their own body temperatures, and it would've been impossible for this particular batch to leave the cold New England ocean in time to save themselves.

Every summer, sea turtles instinctively migrate northward towards cooler waters, however, over the past few decades, northern summers have lasted longer, spilling into the fall. This "tricks" particular turtles into swimming into and staying in shallow waters, which are warmer than the rest of the ocean. However, the precipitation from fall into winter is a drastic one, effectively "trapping" the turtles in these shallow Cape Cod waters.

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freezing rescue turtle
Source: Facebook

The resulting "cold-stun" can have long-term effects on the turtles which can also prove fatal: pneumonia, bone infections, and a litany of other illnesses. Turtles can take anywhere from 30 days to a year to recover from a "cold-stun" and Marathon's Turtle Hospital is working diligently to help some 40 turtles overcome their near-death experience.

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The rescue mission was a time sensitive one. The turtles were wrapped in fluffy towels and then placed in banana boxes. Those turtle boxes were carefully loaded onto a plane from New England and then taken to the Florida Keys, where all 40 turtles were delivered safely. The staff at the Turtle Hospital worked around the clock through Thanksgiving to save the animals' lives.

sea turtle rescue freezing
Source: Facebook
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Each reptile was individually attended to, with additional veterinary consulting coming through via video conference. The hospital posted their care protocols for turtles on Facebook, a process they've unfortunately become very well-practiced in, especially this year.

The Turtle Hospital's manager, Bette Zirkelbach has said that "hundreds of turtles [have been rescued] this year."

Local aquariums aren't able to care for that many turtles, so they're flown to rehab centers in Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia. What's more is that much of the work to care for these animals are conducted by volunteers. The plane that rescued the animals was also funded by a nonprofit group called Turtles Fly Too, which covered the cost of the aircraft and fuel to get them from New England toe Florida.

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Zirkelbach says that the turtle's recoveries are going well, with all 40 of the reptiles passing their swim tests and that they should be released into the wild at Cape Canaveral in about a month's time.

She's gone on to say that hospital operations, including the turtle rescue missions have gone "smoother than expected" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As a bulk of the hospital's funding comes through public tours, they were unfortunately forced to reel in many of its operations, but were still able to care for turtles during the leaner months by providing their 18 staffers with the facilities necessary to help these creatures.

"We've just had to get creative with funding," Zirkelbach admitted.

freezing sea turtle rescue

If you're interested in learning more about the work that the Turtle Hospital does, you can check out their Facebook page here.

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