Thanksgiving Sea Turtle Rescues For Turtle Journal Family

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Jared Nourse Rescues Tiny Green Sea Turtle

A cold front plowed through the Mid West and stormed into New England for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Northwest winds swept across Cape Cod Bay, driving thunderous surf onto beaches from Barnstable to Truro, and tossing helpless cold-stunned sea turtles onto the shore.  These tropical and semi-tropical sea turtles that were trapped in Cape Cod Bay by plunging ocean temperatures became cold-stunned and entered stupor as the sea water thermometer dropped into the low 50s.  Like flotsam and jetsam, they get bounced around the bay until powerful weather conditions and high tides push them ashore.  Then, if rescuers can be on the beach to discover them before fatal hypothermia sets in, these turtles have a good chance of returning safely to the wild where they will restore declining populations.

Turtle Journal Rescues Three Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles

High tide came at 1:30 am and the NW wind direction indicated that likely beaches would include East Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet.  The Turtle Journal team drew Brewster beaches from Paine’s Creek (near the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History) through Point of Rocks.  With a westerly component in the wind, the objective is to walk from west to east, keeping the wind at your back rather than in your face.  We reached Paine’s Creek a little after 1:30 am.  Sue Wieber Nourse and Jared Nourse took the first leg of the patrol from Paine’s Creek to Breakwater; Don Lewis had the easterly leg from Breakwater to Point of Rocks.

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Jared Nourse and Sue Wieber Nourse with Green and 2 Ridleys

Sue Wieber Nourse spotted the first turtle, a medium sized juvenile Kemp’s ridley about a 1/4 mile east of Paine’s Creek.  Jared discovered a smaller Kemp’s ridley about a 1/4 mile west of Saints Landing and a tiny green sea turtle west of the Breakwater seawall.

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Tiny, Cold-Stunned Green Sea Turtle

While Kemp’s ridleys are the more endangered species, it is always a special event to recover a small green sea turtle from the surf.  Here on Cape Cod, greens are relatively rare, perhaps two or three percent of all cold-stunned sea turtles.  So, the rarity of finding one makes them special.  They’re also arguably the most beautiful sea turtle, even when in cold-stunned stupor.  Unlike Kemp’s ridleys and loggerheads, their carapace (top shell) always seems highly polished and free of algae.   When opened, their big puppy-like eyes add a certain cuteness factor.

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Creamy White Plastron of Green Sea Turtle

Even their plastron (bottom shell) seems creamy white and shows very little algae build-up.  All in all, a very beautiful creature!  This specimen measured only 23 centimters (9 inches) from the leading edge to the trailing edge of its shell.

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Two Juvenile Cold-Stunned Kemp’s Ridleys

One of the Kemp’s ridleys was fairly small, while the second was a bit larger.  Because these animals are helpless in the sea, they tend to be blown ashore by physics rather than biology; that is, by size with the smaller first.  As strandings progress, larger and larger animals predominate until near the end of the stranding season, when massive loggerheads rule the beach.

More turtles were discovered on Thanksgiving Day as holiday visitors walked the beaches.  The winds have subsided now and whether or not we launch middle of the night patrols again this evening will depend on what the midday tide yields.

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