More than 200 sickly sea turtles that washed up on shore recently in Cape Cod Bay were flown to Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday, where they will continue their road to recovery — and eventually back to the sea.
After an extended time in waters that were too cold for their juvenile bodies to handle, the turtles, many of which are the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, were extremely weak and sick, said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium.
The turtles have been rewarmed and stabilized but are suffering from medical complications because of prolonged and severe hypothermia and “need time to rebuild their health,” LaCasse said.
On arrival, the 243 turtles were dispersed Tuesday among several hospitals and facilities in Florida and North Carolina, where they will stay for an average of four months until they are healthy enough to return to the sea, LaCasse said.
Since Nov. 3, the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay has picked up a total of 976 sea turtles off the coast of Cape Cod Bay. Of those, about 600 were alive upon rescue and are being treated.
Mass Audubon has been collecting the turtles in need of assistance while others wait to be admitted to New England Aquarium’s marine animal hospital in Quincy.
The Quincy hospital has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of incoming animals, leading officials to fly many to other rehabilitation centers around the country.
“This year, because of the vast number of turtles, we have to streamline the process,” LaCasse said. “All of them are not getting the complete medical review because we just don’t have the time.”
The aquarium received 50 more turtles from Wellfleet on Tuesday at noon. LaCasse said the aquarium plans to bring in another 50 to 70 from Wellfleet by Wednesday.
“This has been a tremendous operational challenge,” LaCasse said. “It is absolutely jolting to everyone that there are that many juvenile sea turtles this year in Cape Cod Bay.”
Although the number has been unprecedented, LaCasse said it is a positive indicator of a good survival rate among the hatchlings.