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After a bumpy Thanksgiving journey, 30 cold-stunned sea turtles from Cape Cod arrive in New Orleans

Rescued Kemp’s ridley sea turtles receive care at Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
Rescued Kemp’s ridley sea turtles receive care at Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.Courtesy of Tennessee Aquarium

In a Thanksgiving journey marked by bad weather, a broken plane propeller, and an unplanned stay in Chattanooga, 30 critically endangered sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod beaches are now safely in New Orleans.

The New England Aquarium on Saturday announced the successful completion of a trip made possible with help from several animal rescue organizations in four states.

“I have always said truly special people work in the business of animal conservation; this has proven to be true so many times in my 30 years doing this work,” Connie Merigo, manager of the marine animal rescue department at the aquarium said in a statement.

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On Cape Cod, the Mass. Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife has rescued dozens of cold-stunned turtles since election day. The 30 Kemp ridley turtles were taken to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy and to the National Marine Life Center in Bourne to be stabilized. Then, they were to be taken to other rehabilitation hospitals along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico for further treatment, the statement said.

On Wednesday, the turtles were headed to the Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network’s Aquatic Center in New Orleans.

But pilots from Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit that transports critically endangered species, faced strong headwinds and storms causing them to “twice to refuel and change course to avoid winds,” the statement read.

When the plane refueled for a second time in Chattanooga, more trouble soon followed. A rock kicked up when pilots tried to take off, which struck and damaged the propeller. The plane couldn’t fly, the statement said.

A call went out to help the turtles now stranded at the airport.

Staff from the Tennessee Aquarium, located in Chattanooga, went to the airport and brought the turtles to its facility, working with veterinarians from the New England Aquarium to care for them.

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“When we learned the plane could not reach its final destination, a flurry of calls went out, and within an hour, we had safe, warm overnight housing secured for these turtles,” Merigo said. “The zoo, aquarium, and sea turtle rehab network rallied around us in record speed.”

Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine assisted in the efforts.

And a plan was made quickly to get the turtles back on track to New Orleans. The turtles were loaded into a shuttle bus and driven by the Turtles Fly Too pilots on Thanksgiving afternoon, where Coastal Wildlife’s staff met them halfway and continued the rest of the journey.

The turtles arrived to New Orleans in good condition but will require “significant care before being released back into the wild,” the statement read.

“We were more than happy to jump in and offer assistance with their rehabilitation,” said Gabriella Harlamert, a marine rescue coordinator for Coastal Wildlife. “This effort would not have been possible without the generous collaboration of organizations across the country.”



Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.