Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sea Turtle Strandings on Cape Cod

Live sea turtles rescued from Truro beaches. 
NECWA staff and interns have been assisting Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary with their sea turtle stranding activities. This season, there has been a record number of strandings on the beaches of Cape Cod with over 1,000 animals coming ashore.

The 1000th sea turtle to strand in this 2014 season. 
The majority of stranded sea turtles are juveniles that had been feeding in Cape Cod Bay and Massachusetts Bay over the course of the summer. Our New England waters are home to 5 species of endangered and threatened sea turtles so their presence in our area is not unusual. The most common sea turtles to strand are the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, the loggerhead sea turtle and the green sea turtle. Since all are endangered, recusing each individual is of critical importance. Most cold-stunned turtles wash up just as the high tide is receding. This means that you have to walk the beaches day and night as the tides change each day.

NECWA intern Fabi with Kemp's ridley sea turtle.
As fall approaches, these animals begin to migrate south for warmer, more tropical waters. They will spend their winters in southern waters for they are cold-blooded animals that can not regulate their body temperature. From what we see happening in our area, they can not tolerate water temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unfortunately, some sea turtles miss Race Point are funneled into the arm of Cape Cod. Sea turtles trapped inside Cape Cod Bay are stuck and can no longer travel south. As water temperatures in Cape Cod Bay decrease, these sea turtles became hypothermic, a process called cold-stunning. Cold-stunned individuals will eventually wash ashore, live and dead, typically on the northern shores of Cape Cod.

Director Bob Prescott measuring a live Kemp's ridley sea turtle. 
Rescued sea turtles are taken back to Wellfleet Bay where they receive an initial health check-up and examination. Once stabilized, these animals are then transported to the New England Aquarium's Quincy Rehabilitation Facility for more intense treatment that includes antibiotics and fluids. If large numbers of animals are rescued, many sea turtles will be transported to other rehabilitation facilities where they are cared for until their release back into the wild next spring.

NECWA staff walking Cold Storage Beach in Dennis.
This fall and winter, NECWA staff and interns have been walking the beaches of Cape Cod looking for stranded sea turtles in an effort to support these rescue activities.

NECWA intern Fabi with rescued sea turtle. 
Scavenged sea turtle carcass. 
Once a turtle has stranded, it is important to get to that animal as quickly as possible for they are now exposed to the wind and weather. They are also susceptible to scavengers like sea gulls and coyotes who will attach these helpless animals when exposed.

Rescued Kemp's ridley being transported back to Wellfleet Bay.
NECWA staff and interns have also been supporting Wellfleet Bay's efforts by just helping out in any way that makes sense. Wellfleet Bay is doing a fabulous job as a first responder in this rescue effort.

NECWA intern Jess helping clean at Wellfleet Bay.
Help us continue this work by donating to NECWA today. Please go to the NECWA website at and donate today. Donations can be received through the mail, our through our website using PayPal or JustGive. Thank you for your support.

Marine debris collected by NECWA from local beaches as we walk for sea turtle.