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A leatherback sea turtle rescued after it was stranded on an Eastham beach Sunday is fighting for its life, suffering from major respiratory issues, officials said.

The 320-pound sub-adult turtle was listed in serious condition even though it did not have any obvious external wounds and it appeared to be in decent shape when it was spotted on First Encounter Beach around 4 p.m., said Karen Dourdeville, a sea turtle research associate for the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which led the rescue effort.

Bob Prescott, the sanctuary’s director, coordinated the rescue on the beach, directing casual beachgoers who happened to be there on how they could help get the turtle onto a cart so that it could be loaded onto a truck, Dourdeville said.

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The turtle was put into the truck and taken to the New England Aquarium’s animal treatment center in Quincy, where a team of veterinarians and biologists began working on getting the turtle into better condition, Dourdeville said.

But the ride in the truck did not bode well for the usually free-swimming turtle, which was in near-death condition by the time it arrived at the treatment center, said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium.

Despite not looking too bad on the beach, the turtle may have had health problems that were not immediately obvious, and the trip to the treatment center likely upped the turtle’s stress levels significantly, LaCasse said.

“The prognosis was very poor,” LaCasse said, later adding that if an animal strands, “there’s something underlying.”

The team at the aquarium ran blood work on the turtle to try to figure out what was wrong so they could work on saving it, despite the grim prognosis.

“Because sea turtles are cold-blooded, even when vital signs are very poor, we sometimes have miraculous recoveries,” LaCasse said.

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The New England Aquarium is one of a handful of institutions in the world that has successfully treated and released a leatherback turtle, he said.

A much larger leatherback sea turtle was stranded on Ellis Landing Beach in Brewster on Halloween. That turtle, which was severely injured, was also carted off the beach by rescuers from the sanctuary and from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The 420-pound reptile was taken to the aquarium’s treatment center, but it died that night, Dourdeville said.

Live turtle strandings are rare. There is usually only one live stranding reported every few years around Massachusetts, but the fact that there have been two in the last two weeks isn’t necessarily alarming, LaCasse said.

The turtle found Sunday in Eastham was struggling to breathe on its own Monday afternoon, after it had been put on a ventilator overnight, LaCasse said.

The aquarium’s team is continuing to monitor the turtle, providing fluids, stimulants, and medications as necessary, LaCasse said.


Andres Picon can be reached at andres.picon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andpicon.