Rescuing Tropical Sea Turtles in Arctic Conditions

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Cold-Stunned Kemp’s Ridley Overturned in Surf

Winds continue to blow, temperatures continue to plunge, and tropical sea turtles continue to be expelled from the frigid waters of Cape Cod Bay.  With numbers approaching 150 critically endangered turtles, beach patrols go out at each high tide in search for helpless animals that would quickly succumb to hypothermia without aggressive intervention.  Friday night, as the Weather Channel charts below indicate, proved a gruesome night for tropical critters and human rescuers with temperatures on the Outermost Cape dipping into the low 20s, a powerful westerly gale raking the coastline and pounding breakers gouging beach and dunes.


Friday Night Temps Dipped into Low 20s on Outer Cape Cod


Gale Force Winds Roar from the Northwest

The real challenge Friday night was reaching the beach.  “Landings” on Cape Cod are beach access points that usually involve a path through foredunes, creating a canyon effect.  With a powerful on-shore blow, winds channel through this opening at hurricane force, scouring sand pebbles from the beach and spewing them horizontally through the “canyon.”  The only successful access to the beach on Friday night demanded a backwards approach, which proved a bit tricky considering pitch darkness, unbalancing gusts and sifting sands.  Knockdowns were neither unknown nor infrequent.

Tropical Sea Turtle Rescued in Arctic Conditions

Still, turtles would be tossed ashore with the night high tide and rescuers were needed to patrol miles and miles of beaches from Truro to Brewster no matter the conditions.  The video above documents the recovery of a medium sized juvenile Kemp’s ridley from the raging surf off Ryder Beach in South Truro.

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Cold-Stunned Juvenile Kemp’s Ridley

This Kemp’s ridley had taken in a lot of water while tumbling through the surf zone.  The hope we feel for each rescued animal is only encouraged by the number of “dead turtles” that “return to life” after 24 hours of resting in dry dock at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  Several Kemp’s marked down as DOA on Thursday snapped back to life on Friday. 

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Critically Endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Turtles are wonderfully resilient animals, and cold-stunned tropical sea turtles need to be resilient when trapped in near Arctic conditions of wintry Cape Cod Bay.  For critically endangered turtles like the Kemp’s ridley, every effort we make to save these juveniles pays enormous dividends toward the survival of the species; saving the species, one turtle at a time.

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