MARATHON, Florida Keys — Forty critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles arrived in the subtropical Florida Keys Saturday to warm up and receive treatment after suffering “cold stunning” in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass.
Found stranded on beaches as a result of the condition, the juvenile turtles were rescued and subsequently flown from New England to Florida Keys Marathon Airport, arriving Saturday afternoon.
“Hundreds of turtles are washing up on the beach,” said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. “More than the capacity that the aquariums up there can take care of, so they are being flown to the Turtle Hospital to warm up and have care for these critical animals.”
The effort to fly the turtles to the Keys was made possible by a group of private pilots, dubbed “Turtles Fly Too,” who donated their aircraft, fuel and time. The reptiles were transported in sturdy, towel-lined banana boxes.
“Cold stunning” is a hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time, said Zirkelbach, adding that it typically causes them to stop eating and swimming.
Zirkelbach said the most critically ill turtles will need additional testing to discover whether they have pneumonia, infections or other ailments. Treatment will be determined accordingly, as will the length of the rehabilitation period.
“They could be at the Turtle Hospital anywhere from 30 days to a year’s time, depending on their condition when they arrived here,” she said. “Once we warm them up, they’re going to go to another part of Florida to be returned to the ocean and that’s our goal with these 40 turtles.
“We’re hoping, flippers crossed, that they all go back to sea,” she said.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most endangered of turtle species, Zirkelbach said.
Approximately two dozen other “cold-stunned” turtles flown from New England Saturday are to be rehabilitated at marine centers throughout Florida.