Fifteen critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles are warming up at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital after being rescued from cold waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The turtles initially were treated by New England Aquarium staff in Boston.
The juvenile turtles have pneumonia as a result of "cold stunning" but are expected to make a full recovery, officials said Tuesday. "Cold stunning" is a hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time.
"They came in when the water was warm, and they didn't go out with the Gulf Stream," Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach said of that warmer ocean current. "The cold weather moved in and the turtles didn't get out in time." The turtles, which range from two to 10 pounds each, were flown Monday night to the Florida Keys from Norwood, Massachusetts. They were transported in towel-lined boxes en route to the Turtle Hospital. A group of private pilots donated the turtles’ flight to Florida.
"They're going to be treated at the Turtle Hospital with broad spectrum antibiotics," Zirkelbach said. "We're going to give them vitamins, a healthy diet, and we're going to keep them in warm water, 75 degrees. That will warm them up and let those medications do their work." The rehabilitation is expected to take up to two months.The reptiles are likely to be released in waters off Florida after they recover.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles are the most endangered of all turtle species, Zirkelbach said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says on its website that the species is most common along the Gulf coasts of Mexico and of such U.S. states as Texas, Louisiana and Florida. It also is found along the Atlantic coast in the Southeast and as far north as New England during the summer and fall.