Following a historic season that saw hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles wash ashore on Cape Cod, the New England Aquarium sent off 25 rehabilitated turtles to be released back into the wild from the North Carolina coast.
The turtles spent the past four to six months at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy. Volunteer pilots with the non-profit organization Turtles Fly Too met animal care staff members at the Marshfield Airport to safely get the turtles onboard and en route to North Carolina’s warmer waters off Fort Macon State Park. Three planes transported the rehabilitated turtles south, along with nine turtles from National Marine Life Center and Mystic Aquarium.
“It is so rewarding to see many of these turtles returning to their home,” said Adam Kennedy, senior biologist at the Aquarium. “While I would love to be there to set the turtles down on the beach myself, knowing that this honor will go to others that have played such pivotal roles rescuing these animals over the years—especially this year—makes it just as special.”
Aquarium biologists and veterinarians had treated the Kemp’s ridley turtles, an endangered species, for a variety of life-threatening medical conditions that resulted from weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed during stranding season, which occurs when New England waters quickly turn cold in the fall. The 2020 season, which began in October, required strict safety protocols and tight coordination with partner organizations amid the pandemic. The Aquarium worked closely with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, National Marine Life Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service, and Turtles Fly Too to save hundreds of turtles. Over the course of the season, the Aquarium admitted 569 sea turtles for rehabilitation. There are currently 15 turtles remaining at the Quincy facility, which will be released off Cape Cod over the summer.
For more than 30 years, the New England Aquarium has helped rescue, rehabilitate, release, and research endangered and threatened sea turtles. The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital functions similarly to how a human patient would be admitted to a hospital. When they first arrive, the turtles are assigned a federal number to track their medical plan, acting as an identifier for prescriptions and other specialized care. The turtles then receive a physical exam, replacement fluids, heart rate and respiration assessment, wound care as needed, and a trial swim. The trial swim helps biologists and veterinarians determine the turtle’s level of activity and alertness. Turtles also get X-rays to assess for fractured bones and lung condition, with many diagnosed with pneumonia.