Monday, March 16th, 2015 was a happy day for sea turtle rehabilitators at the NC Aquariums and the Virginia Aquarium. They had the opportunity to watch sea turtles they have worked hard to help recover from the potentially fatal effects of cold stun syndrome return to the sea. Eighteen sea turtles rehabilitated by the NC Aquariums joined twelve animals rehabilitated at the Virginia Aquarium, on a special ride on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Nantuckett. The ship’s Captain, Lt. Elizabeth Gillis and Executive Officer Lt. J.G. Natalie Rothman ferried the lucky turtles to the Gulf Stream Current, where they were released into balmy 22.8 ˚C temperature waters, using a newly implemented ramp/slide that worked well to safely guide the animals down from the ship’s deck.
A sea turtle uses the new slide/ramp release to return to the sea.
On board were a cadre of veterinarians including EMC residents and graduate students working with the NC Aquariums veterinarian Dr. Emily Christiansen who supervised the medical aspects of the transport and release. Also observing the release were an excited select group of the many people who worked hard to rehabilitate the turtles that were shipped to the south for recovery and rehabilitation as large numbers of affected turtles overwhelmed sea turtle rescue and recovery centers along the Northeastern U.S. coast.
The released turtles were damaged when sudden onslaughts of polar vortex driven cold plunged Northeastern onshore water temperatures to temperatures that stunned and killed many sea turtles caught unable to escape to warmer deeper waters. The release, coordinated by NC State Sea Turtle Biologist Dr. Matthew Godfrey and the U.S. Coast Guard went off without a hitch, and saved the sea turtles from a long swim to find warmer waters.