Warm Fall Followed by Steady Flow of Cold Sea Turtles

Every cold-stun sea turtle season has its special characteristics and this year’s will be known for how long it lasted— well into January!

A sea turtle rescuer points the way at Eastham’s First Encounter Beach.

As of this posting, we’ve rescued or recovered over 700 sea turtles, our fourth busiest year. Last year we had over 1,000 by the end of the season. But now that we’re about half-way through January, it’s clear the season is finally wrapping up.

Because of a very warm fall, the first cold-stunned turtles came in about two weeks later than usual, November 17th. After that, they came in almost daily, including one 94-turtle day.

Note balloon string at both ends of this Kemp’s ridley.

One noteworthy turtle was a live Kemp’s ridley with a balloon string running through its entire GI tract. We’ve only seen this situation in two turtles from previous years and both were dead. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the latest turtle and our fingers are crossed for its full recovery.

Two stranded turtles have had tags, meaning both were previous cold-stun victims. A green sea turtle found on Nantucket, unfortunately, was dead. The turtle was rehabbed last winter and released in June at West Dennis Beach. We also had a return ridley, a turtle that stranded last fall and was rehabbed and released off North Carolina last spring. Happily, it was alive when it was rescued by Michael Lach at Ellis Landing in Brewster!

Our awesome corps of volunteers covered miles of beaches from Dennis to Provincetown, many of them walking on some cold, windy overnight and predawn beach patrols.

One of Great Island’s “regular crew”, Bruce Hurter (Photo by David Roy)

Wellfleet—and Great Island in particular–was a stranding hot spot. This 3-mile-long barrier beach in Wellfleet requires almost daily coverage and a round-trip walk of 6 miles! We’re constantly amazed by the “regular crew”—Bruce Hurter, Bruce Beane, Charlie Sullivan and John Cumbler, all of whom walk that long, often lonely trip. We’re also grateful that the Cape Cod National Seashore rangers frequently patroled that stretch by truck, often giving our turtles a lift and bringing them to the sanctuary.

Left to right, NPS rangers Valora and Farrell with a Great Island loggerhead. (Photo by Will Freedberg)

A shout-out, too, to the volunteers who were ready to drive turtles to the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy and the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, sometimes with only a hour’s notice!

Sea turtle volunteer Nancy Rabke prepares to drive multiple turtles to Quincy. (Photo by Kelly Sattman)

We also want to acknowledge all the casual beach walkers who kept an eye out for stranded sea turtles, folks walking their dogs and those visiting the Cape for a weekend, including this familiar-looking guy who responded to a stranded ridley at Ryder Beach in Truro!

Mass Audubon President David O’Neill responds to a rescued Kemp’s ridley at Ryder Beach.

The season concluded, as it usually does, with loggerheads. To our amazement, several of these larger turtles were still alive when they stranded, despite being exposed to much colder January temperatures. In one case, our sea turtle team was directed to administer preliminary first aid by “swimming” two loggerheads so that they could start to warm up a bit and re-hydrate. The New England Aquarium’s Sarah DiCarlo, on the phone, gave instructions as our staff oversaw activity in the baby pools!

Wellfleet Bay’s US Fish & Wildlife permit authorizes our sea turtle staff not only to rescue endangered sea turtles from beaches, but, when requested, to administer first aid to animals before they are transported to rehabilitation.

2021 Sea Turtle Stats

Total 733
By Species
Kemp’s ridley617
By Town
Martha’s Vineyard1

One thought on “Warm Fall Followed by Steady Flow of Cold Sea Turtles

  1. Lori Precourt

    Thanks for the update! My husband and I are a couple of the daily walkers that also keep an eye out for any stranded turtles. We brought in two of the Brewster turtles. I appreciate the breakdown by town and the other info. Keep up the good work for the turtles!! Lori Precourt


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