More than 40 young sea turtles were rescued by Mass Audubon over the weekend after they washed ashore on Cape Cod suffering from hypothermia, officials said.
The turtles, most of which were the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, are 2 to 5 years old and became stranded on six beaches after being stuck in Cape Cod Bay.
Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium, said marine life becoming stranded is usually a bad thing, but not for the turtles.
“In this case,” he said, “stranding . . . is their only life-saving option.”
LaCasse explained that the turtles would not survive if they did not become stranded and get rescued.
Over the weekend, the aquarium took in 45 sea turtles at its Quincy Animal Care Center. Twenty-eight were rescued on Sunday, the most the center has taken in on a single day since 1999, LaCasse said.
The turtle strandings are an annual affair — an average of 90 per year are rescued from the Cape, a peninsula with the world’s second-highest rate of marine animal strandings.
The animals swim into the bay to eat in the summer, but often become confused when they want to migrate south.
“Many get on the north side of the Cape, and that is a really tricky navigation problem,” LaCasse said.
They would need to swim 25 miles north, in the wrong direction, to exit the bay — a discovery many of the animals do not make, he said.
The turtles slowly develop hypothermia over the fall months, when water temperatures fall about 20 degrees. Once inert, the turtles wash ashore, starving, cold, and sickly.
Of the turtles rescued alive, six died shortly after they reached the Quincy center — a high number for turtles arriving at the center, LaCasse said. After being treated at the facility, the survival rate for the animals is usually about 80 percent.
The 50 turtles being treated at the center, which includes those that had been there prior to the weekend, will be treated for three to 10 months, LaCasse said. Those that are only hypothermic will be slowly warmed — just 5 degrees per day — and released in the waters of Florida or Georgia in two or three months.
Those that also suffered other illnesses, such as pneumonia, will stay longer, and be released in warm waters when they are ready.
Monday, three more turtles were on their way to the center in Quincy, a mission LaCasse called “critical work” because the Kemp’s ridley turtles are endangered.
“The next 10 days to two weeks will likely be very, very busy,” LaCasse said.
Kiera Blessing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.