After weeks of rehabilitation, four loggerhead sea turtles have gained enough strength to be flown from the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy to another facility in North Carolina Thursday to receive additional care.
The turtles, weighing between 30 and 80 pounds, were rescued from Cape Cod beaches in November after being stranded in freezing temperatures, suffering from hypothermia or pneumonia, the New England Aquarium said in a statement.
A volunteer pilot, Paul Schubert, flew the juvenile turtles from Marshfield Municipal Airport to Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City, N.C., the statement said. Schubert regularly donates his plane, fuel, and time through an organization called Turtles Fly Too to help sea turtles receive the care they need.
“I am so grateful to all the people who donate their time and resources to help us save these turtles,” said Connie Merigo, head of the aquarium’s marine animal rescue effort. “It’s an amazing effort to contribute to saving endangered species, and we have a lot of help.”
This year marked the second busiest cold stranding season on record after 2014, the statement said, with 415 live turtles admitted to the aquarium’s sea turtle hospital this year for treatment. To date, 282 turtles have been medically stabilized and transported to other facilities.
Loggerheads, which were just bumped down from endangered status to threatened, are the world’s largest hard-shelled turtle, aquarium spokesperson Tony LaCasse said in a telephone interview. The largest one taken to N.C. Thursday weighs just over 90 pounds, LaCasse added.
With more loggerhead strandings, the aquarium’s care center is running out of space, prompting marine officials to transport more turtles to outside facilities in places like Virginia, Florida, and Texas, LaCasse said.
Back when the Quincy care center opened, about 100 turtles would stay in tanks or dry areas, but with an increasing amount of strandings in the Cape Cod area, LaCasse said the center will soon approach about 500 live turtles under its care at once.
Volunteers with the Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have rescued about 766 loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s ridley turtles in 2018 alone, the statement said.
Turtle strandings begin to occur in late November because juvenile turtles from the Gulf of Mexico get caught in the Cape’s structure while feeding on crabs, LaCasse said.
As temperatures decrease, waters become too cold, forcing a turtle’s body temperature to drop to dangerous levels before they are able to swim to warmer waters.
“This year, many of them washed up dead, including 329 Kemp’s ridley turtles” around Thanksgiving, the statement said.
Even the turtles that wash ashore with a single beat per minute have about an 85 percent chance of surviving, LaCasse said. Once rewarmed and treated, the turtles are sent back out to sea.