More than eighty percent of the sea turtles that strand on Cape Cod in the fall are Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest sea turtle and the most endangered. Increasingly, more tropical green turtles are also finding their way into Cape Cod Bay. But the most imposing of the turtles that cold-stun in the fall are the loggerheads.
Loggerheads, even youngsters, can be a physical challenge. Over the years, Wellfleet Bay has brought in some very big ones, including a 200 pounder in 2013 and a nearly 300 pounder in 2014 that was actually a very rare (for Massachusetts) adult.
What you hope with a loggerhead is that when a call comes in, the turtle is not very far down the beach and that someone else has managed to drag it closer, like this energetic volunteer.
That smooth-shelled, first-of-the-season loggerhead was a harbinger: we had a number of lovely little loggerheads this fall– turtles that were probably only 3 or 4 years old–with clean, bright shells and none of the encrusted barnacles and other freeloading critters usually found on older turtles. This is a classic example:
Rescuing loggerheads can range in effort from some short-term hoisting and pulling to a multi-mile slog, often against a strong wind. And when a team spends several hours pulling one off a very long beach (three-mile-long Great Island in Wellfleet comes to mind), rescuers can become emotionally invested in getting that animal to the New England Aquarium for critical medical care.
Sadly, this turtle did not survive its hypothermia. But turtle team leader Rebecca Shoer and teammate Olivia Bourque had a chance to save another loggerhead off Great Island under some punishing conditions: 20-degree temperatures and wind gusts of 40-50 miles per hour with a quickly-setting sun.
But despite the exposure to the icy water, the even colder beach, and a long trek back to the sanctuary, this turtle made it to the aquarium where it is now in rehab.
Rebecca says there is something about the loggerhead that is very striking and humbling. “We know so little about these animals, where they go, and what they do, that you can’t help but wish that they could give you just a glimpse into their world.”