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US aquarium saves 150 sea turtles from the cold

November 29, 2022

An aquarium in Boston has been treating "cold-stunned" sea turtles stranded on US beaches. Experts urge the public not to return stranded animals into the water.

A volunteer holds up sea turtle in an indoor pool
Many turtles become stranded in Cape Cod Bay off MassachusettsImage: Vanessa Kahn/New England Aquarium

Over 150 sea turtles have received treatment this season for "life-threatening medical conditions" prompted by hypothermia in the New England Aquarium, based in the US city of Boston.

The aquarium officials said critically endangered species were also affected.

The animals, rescued by the volunteers working for the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, included 120 critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtles and 33 green turtles.

"In years past, cold-stunned sea turtles would begin to wash ashore in late October," said the aquarium's director of rescue and rehabilitation, Adam Kennedy. This year, however, the stranding were only reported in the second half of November.

"Milder weather means the waters of Cape Cod Bay are staying warmer for a prolonged period of time, which we believe could be a sign of climate change's impact on the Gulf of Maine," Kennedy explained.

'Cold-stunning' explained

Hundreds of endangered and threatened sea turtles strand on the beaches of Cape Cod because of "cold-stunning" every fall. The Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary says cold-stunning occurs when the animals get trapped in Cape Cod Bay on the eastern US coast. They are then unable to move to warmer waters further south.

A volunteer holds a turtle lying on a towel
The rescued animals included endangered Kemp’s ridley turtlesImage: Vanessa Kahn/New England Aquarium

The number of cold-stunned sea turtle strandings has increased from around 50 a year at the turn of the century to more than 700 in 2021, according to the New England Aquarium.

The animal sanctuary warned that sea turtles should never be returned to the water if discovered by members of the public in this area.

"When a sea turtle strands, it's very compromised and requires medical attention. They're not like seals — they don't bask on the beach. Returning a turtle to the water will very likely result in its death," program coordinator Jess Ciarcia said in a statement.

kb/dj (dpa, DW sources)