WELLFLEET, Mass. — Quietly, the numbers of stranded turtles this year have piled up, with over 900 plucked off Cape beaches over the past six weeks.
While a typical year might see a couple of hundred of these tropical turtles coming ashore after Thanksgiving, 720 turtles have received veterinary care between the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy and the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay. That's more than the all-time record of 692 turtles admitted for care between the two facilities in 2014.
Volunteers trained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary walk Cape beaches every day in conditions that favor turtle strandings. Loggerheads, Kemp’s ridley and green turtles become trapped in Cape Cod Bay in the fall as the waters north of the bay cool, making it impossible for these cold-blooded animals to swim around Race Point and head south to warmer waters.
The three species are also listed as endangered.
The cold shuts down organs and muscle functions, and these immobilized hypothermic turtles are blown ashore along Cape Cod Bay, where volunteers walking the high tide beach find them. They are triaged at the Wellfleet sanctuary, and the live turtles are driven to either the New England Aquarium’s turtle hospital in Quincy or to the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay. There they are gradually warmed, hydrated, fed and treated for injuries and illnesses.
Turtles that are in relatively good shape are flown or driven by volunteers to a network of 32 rehabilitation facilities in the South and Midwest. Turtles Fly Too, a network of volunteer pilots, have flown nearly 500 turtles to rehab facilities in Florida and Texas over the past six weeks.
The New England Aquarium said that at least 75% of sea turtles treated at their animal hospital recover to be released back into the wild.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod: Tropical turtles rescued from beaches in record numbers