NC Aquarium Shelters Chilled Sea Turtles

Emerald Isle, NC – The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores has given a warm welcome to seven sea turtles recovering from the effects of icy New England waters.

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores - Wendy Cluse holds a cold-stunned sea turtle from New England

Wendy Cluse, Conservation and Research Coordinator at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, checks on a cold-stunned sea turtle from New England.

The five loggerheads and two Kemp’s ridleys were among more than 200 sea turtles rescued in Massachusetts since November, when water temperatures dipped dangerously low for the cold-blooded reptiles.

Because they can’t tolerate winter weather, most usually head to the warmer Gulf Stream waters or migrate south when the seasons change. Lingering turtles caught in a sudden chill suffer a potentially deadly condition called cold-stunning, similar to hypothermia in humans. Their heart rates and other functions slow, leaving them lethargic and unable to swim. Prolonged exposure can result in paralysis, and the turtles float on the surface or wash up on beaches. Eventually they go into shock, and many die.

The New England Aquarium in Boston has received a record 223 cold-stunned sea turtles this winter so far, including the seven now at the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and several others at the Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The North Carolina Aquariums are among many facilities along the East Coast offering shelter for the stricken animals stable enough for transport.

The loggerheads brought to Pine Knoll Shores range in size from 20 to 46 pounds. One of the Kemp’s ridleys weighs four pounds; the other eight. Aquarium staff members are keeping close watch on the turtles in behind-the-scenes holding facilities.

“They are all on antibiotics to stave off pneumonia and other potential infections common in cold- stuns,” said Wendy Cluse, the Aquarium’s Conservation and Research Coordinator. “We will continue their antibiotics, as well as provide good food, vitamins, clean water and a warm place to recuperate. Once they are off antibiotics, eating well and appear to be in good health as per our veterinarian, they will be released. That could be as soon as two weeks, but may be much longer.”

If they recover before local water temperatures moderate, the turtles will be taken to the Gulf Stream for release. Cold-stunning occurs in North Carolina waters also. A cold-stunned green sea turtle recently found near Shackleford Banks and another green found near Cedar Island currently are recovering at the Aquarium. The numbers vary widely according to weather patterns, but some cold-stunned turtles are brought to the Aquarium for care almost every winter. See the Aquarium’s website for a video and more information on caring for these creatures.

Sea turtles are protected by federal law. In North Carolina, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission coordinates sea turtle rescues, rehabilitation and releases and monitors nesting and hatching activity. If you come across a stranded sea turtle, dead or alive, call the NCWRC at 252-241-7367 or 252-728-1528.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is five miles west of Atlantic Beach at 1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores, NC 28512. The Aquarium and gift shop are open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.  Regular admission is $8 for ages 13-61; $7 for ages 62 and up; $6 for ages 3-12; no charge for ages 2 and under and North Carolina Aquarium Society members. For more information, see or call 252-247-4003.

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