Some precious live cargo — fortunate to be given a second chance — was loaded onto a plane Friday morning and headed for their new lives in Florida sunshine.
Eleven critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were taken by biologists to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach for a flight, coordinated by Turtles Fly Too, to Canaveral National Seashore in Florida where they are to be released back into the ocean. The rehabilitated sea turtles had spent 81 days in the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society’s critical care facility after they were found cold stunned (hypothermic) and stranded along the shores of Massachusetts. In light of the pandemic and what has been called one of the busiest cold stun events in Massachusetts’ history, the state’s stranding organizations saw a need to move animals to other care facilities.
“Even though we have responded to over 800 animals in the last four years, our ability to rehabilitate and release these 11 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is the essence of why we formed Atlantic Marine Conservation Society to be able to help during a crisis,” AMSEAS founder and chief scientist Rob DiGiovanni said in a press release.
AMSEAS was formed in 2016 to help its stranding network partners and is authorized to respond to both live and dead marine mammals and sea turtles in New York. This past fall National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries asked that AMSEAS set up a critical care triage facility to take in cold stunned sea turtles that had stranded in Massachusetts.
AMSEAS admitted the sea turtles to its Westhampton Beach facility on Dec. 8, 2020. The sea turtles arrived at Gabreski Airport from the New England Aquarium. All of the turtles that were received at the AMSEAS facility were found on the beaches around the Cape Cod shoreline and transferred to Westhampton Beach within five days. After receiving care, these animals made significant improvements in their health and were deemed ready to be released, said AMSEAS.
An additional four animals were still under AMSEAS’ care. Their release was hoped for as soon as possible.
Cold stun occurs when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the fall and some sea turtles are not able to make their way south to warmer waters. These animals can become hypothermic and suffer a decreased heart rate, decreased respiration and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death. An average year for cold stunned sea turtles is between 400 and 900 animals stranding on beaches throughout the northeast United States, according to AMSEAS.
Kate Sampson, the NOAA Fisheries stranding and disentanglement coordinator, said in a statement, “We are happy that AMSEAS was able to bring their critical care facility online to assist the network during its response to the largest live sea turtle cold stun event in our region’s history.”