A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle washed ashore on Cape Cod Monday, an early stranding for the endangered species that struggles annually to make it out of the region’s cooling waters as winter approaches.
Researchers are hopeful that the stranding is only an isolated case brought on by the recent frigid weather. But they are watching the shores carefully after last fall brought an alarming spike in the number of turtles caught by the arm of the Cape on their journey south.
“We are prepping for a big year, but hoping for a small one,” Michael Sprague, coordinator of sea turtle rescue for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, said in a statement.
Typically, about 90 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles become stranded each year after spending their summer in Cape Cod Bay. In 2014, the New England Aquarium rehabilitated 733 turtles, a record number.
The stranding season typically starts in about two weeks, but the cold may have contributed to the early arrival. Water in Cape Cod Bay fell to the mid-50s Sunday as air temperatures plummeted to the 30s and the season’s first snowflakes arrived, the aquarium said.
The stranded sea turtle, like many before it, probably got lost in the bay and became shocked by the bitter cold.
Aquarium officials hope the turtle is just “a lonesome, early party crasher,” so they can continue to prime for the stranding season for another two weeks.
“I was surprised that he came in this early,” said Linda Lory, senior rescue biologist. “I was hoping that we would have a week or two more off.”
The dinner plate-sized turtle was hypothermic, in shallow water in Barnstable’s Sandy Neck Beach Park, the aquarium said. The juvenile was taken to its sea turtle hospital in Quincy.
“It is in pretty good shape,” Lory said. “A little thin, obviously cold but with no visible trauma. Its body temperature was 53.9 degrees. After a check-up, we swam it . . . and put it in our ICU to slowly re-warm.”Sarah Roberts can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @heysarahroberts.