In the largest transport of rescued turtles in the New England Aquarium’s 40-year history, a US Coast Guard plane loaded with 35 sea turtles recovering from hypothermia flew to Orlando Friday.
Volunteers arrived at the aquarium’s medical center in Quincy at 4 a.m. Friday to prep the turtles for travel, which included rubbing them down with petroleum jelly to retain moisture during the flight, said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the aquarium. The animals were flown from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.
The turtles, rescued from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, will finish their recovery at several marine animal rescue facilities, including SeaWorld Orlando, he said.
The turtles were among the 150 already rescued from the beaches of Wellfleet Bay on Cape Cod by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, LaCasse said.
Of the 35 turtles flown to Florida, 15 were loggerheads that weighed between 40 and 100 pounds each and ultimately put a strain on hospital resources because of their size, LaCasse said. The aquarium’s tanks can normally hold five of the juvenile Kemp’s Ridley turtles, which usually account for 90 percent of the turtles found stranded. But the tanks can hold only one loggerhead.
The center has surpassed its capacity for sea turtles after more than 100 arrived in the past 10 days, he said.
Friday’s flight cleared much-needed space. In a span of 12 hours over Thursday evening to Friday morning, another 11 turtles washed up, officials said.
The aquarium usually flies turtles on private planes, but this time the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration intervened . . . and asked the Coast Guard if they had aerial resources to assign this flight,” LaCasse said.
Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles and are still susceptible to infections at low body temperatures. The aquarium’s medical center warms the turtles five degrees each day until their body temperatures reach slightly more than 70 degrees.