MARATHON, Florida Keys — Thirty-two critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were rescued off Cape Cod were flown by private plane Tuesday from Quincy, Massachusetts, to the subtropical Florida Keys, where they will convalesce at Marathon’s Turtle Hospital.
The flight transport to Florida Keys Marathon International Airport was conducted by an all-volunteer group of general aviation pilots, in coordination with the “Turtles Fly Too” organization.
Several of the turtles suffer from compromised immune systems and pneumonia as a result of “cold stunning,” a hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time, said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital.
Unlike marine mammals, turtles cannot regulate their body temperatures so water temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit pose a threat to their survival, she added.
“(For) these turtles, once we get them into rehabilitation we have warmer waters right here for them in our rehabilitation tanks,” Zirkelbach said. “The turtles have (been) flown south literally to warm up and get care at the Turtle Hospital.”
The reptiles were rescued between late November and early December and initially treated at the New England Aquarium in Quincy.
Upon their arrival at the Turtle Hospital, on-site veterinarians and staff conducted full physical examinations and began caring for the reptiles.
Treatment is to include broad-spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a mixed seafood diet. Furthermore, the group of turtles are to be placed in rehabilitation tanks set at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the juvenile sea turtles are healthy enough to be released back to the wild, they will return to warmer waters off Florida. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are classified as “critically endangered,” according to federal wildlife officials.