FEB 24, 2021 4:16 PM PST

Texas Freeze Caused Historic Sea Turtle Stranding Event

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

In addition to the millions of humans who suffered through Texas' historic freeze last week, local wildlife also experienced life-threatening challenges. According to the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), colder than usual water temperatures caused the largest cold-stunning event in the United States.

TIRN reports that so far, more than 10,000 sea turtles have been rescued just in the past couple of weeks. For comparison, just over 3,702 cold-stunned sea turtles needed rescue during the 2017-2018 Texas winter.

Cold-stunning is the equivalent of hypothermia for sea turtles. Because they're cold-blooded reptiles that depend on their surrounding environment's temperature to thermoregulate, extended periods of cold water (below 50 degrees) can be life-threatening. According to TIRN, when cold-stunned, sea turtles experience a heart rate and circulation decrease, which leads to lethargy. They're also at risk of pneumonia, shock, frostbite, and death. Sea turtles in this condition often wash ashore or can be found floating lifelessly in the water.

In a quote to the New York Times, Wendy Knight—executive director of Sea Turtle Inc.—said, "You could put a cold-stunned turtle in a half in of water and they'd drown." While cold-stunning events are not unusual overall, she fears that this particular season could have population-level impacts.

Sea Turtle Inc. is another of the several rescue organizations working tirelessly to care for thousands of rescued sea turtles. Rehabilitation efforts typically focus on slowly warming up the animals in dry tubs, ensuring they can safely be placed in shallow water. Once recovered, they are returned to the sea once waters are at survivable temperatures. Many have already recovered and are returning to local waters.

According to a press release from Sea Turtles Inc., the lack of electricity and access to water complicated rescue efforts. They report that thousands of community members came together to aid in this massive rescue effort, even though many suffered their own hardships during the historic weather event.

The New York Times reports that the frigid weather also impacted other animals in Texas. A primate sanctuary suffered several losses and other facilities reported finding seabirds blown off course.

Sources: Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sea Turtles Inc., New York Times

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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