November 25th, 50 sea turtles rescued as cold stun victims of the first cold wave hitting New England flew by private plane, packed in banana crates, to Beaufort, NC for triage and initial treatment at NCSU CMAST. Veterinarians at CMAST helped distribute the patients to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center for rehabilitation.
Nearly 700 sea turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridley turtles, plus a few green and loggerhead sea turtles were cold stunned and rescued in New England in the aftermath of the early first cold snap in the region trapping turtles in waters were temperature changes occur rapidly. Because of the overwhelming numbers, and expectations of more, many turtles are being evacuated for care further south.
North Carolina received 43 Kemp’s ridleys and 7 green turtles. Matthew Godfrey of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, an adjunct faculty member at NCSU CVM and EMC member, coordinated the transfer. NCSU’s veterinary presence centrally located on the coast, based out of CMAST, is ideally situated for providing the necessary intake examinations and care efficiently for these protected species.
Most of the turtles were in reasonably good condition with a good chance of recovering quickly with treatment and being released to warmer waters of the Gulf Stream after a short rehabilitation period. However, complications of cold-stun syndrome can occur, incuding pneumonia, shell and skin damage, and even traumas that occur during the stranding process. These will result in some patients requiring longer term treatment.
As cold weather comes to the North Carolina coast it is likely that local sea turtles will also experience the syndrome, so clinicians and staff of the NC sea turtle rehabilitation facilities are working diligentl to prepare as many of the New England turtles for release as possible to free up space for NC patients should an event occur on our shores.