RESCUED! Most Endangered Sea Turtle in the World

Sue Wieber Nourse and Rescued Kemp’s Ridley

Freezing and blustery … in other words, perfect conditions to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles in the Great White North.  Sue Wieber Nourse and Rufus the Turtle Dog headed to Outer Cape Cod this morning, targeting Saints Landing in Brewster as the most likely spot to find a stranded sea turtle with frigid winds pounding out of the north-northwest.

Cold-Stunned Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley in Brewster

They headed east at Saints Landing and just before reaching the impassable, flooded area near Breakwater, Sue spotted the pinkish, white plastron of a Kemp’s ridley helpless and tossed upside down in the stormy surf.  This 2-to-3 year old juvenile weighed about six pounds.  Pinkish coloration confirms cold-stunning, as blood pools ventrally when the heart rate drops to only a couple of beats a minute.

Rufus Guards Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Once Sue recovered the turtle from the pounding surf, it quickly responded with lively movement, indicating an excellent candidate for rehabilitation and return to the wild.  Rufus stood guard as Turtle Journal notified Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary that Sue would be bringing the turtle to Wellfleet for transport to the New England Aquarium.

Cold-Stunned Jvenie Kemp’s Ridley in Cape Cod Bay

Kemp’s ridleys are one of the most endangered sea turtles in the world.  As part of their natural life cycle they drift north as hatchlings from their natal sites in the Gulf of Mexico, catching a ride on sargasso mats in the Gulf Stream.  Around age two or three, they leave the Gulf Stream and transition to a benthic habitat by swimming west to the coast.  Those that hit the U.S. north of Massachusetts have to contend with the giant arm of Cape Cod as they begin to migrate south with dropping water temperatures.  Each fall juveniles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay by cold waters, become cold-stunned and are eventually driven ashore like flotsam and jetsam in stormy conditions. 

Cold-Stunned Kemp’s Ridley Shows Signs of Life

If we can rescue them from beaches before hypothermia finishes them off, these critcally endangered turtles can be rehabilitated and returned to the wild to restore diminished populations. At each high tide in the very worst of weather conditions, rescuers scour beaches facing the prevailing winds in search of stranded turtles.

Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle En Route to Rehabilitation

For this lucky Kemp’s ridley, Sue and Rufus were at the right spot at the right time, just as it hit the shore.  So, this turtle’s chances for survival are very good.  And in the case of critcally endangered species like the Kemp’s ridley, saving one juvenile at a time really means saving their whole world.

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