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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

Transition — 6 October 2001

Today signaled the beginning — the start of transition from terrapin season to sea turtle rescue on Cape Cod.  As though to second its accord, the weather abruptly transitioned, too.  While overcast and threatening, the morning scored readings in the mid-70s with winds out of the southwest.  By afternoon, though, when the kick-off meeting for the 2001 stranding season convened, a howling northeast blow descended with temperatures plunging nearly 30 degrees in a matter of minutes.

Bob Prescott, executive director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, presented a natural history overview on sea turtles and an historic review of strandings since the 1970s when he first discovered a cold-stunned sea turtle on a Brewster beach.  He told the packed audience of visitors and volunteers of last year’s rescue results, as well as our hopes and plans for the coming season.

Dennis Murley, the Sanctuary’s stranding coordinator, provided comprehensive instructions on the who, where, what, when, why, and how of sea turtle rescues.  The threshold water temperature of 50°F for cold-stunning is usually recorded in late October or early November.  After that milestone is reached, the triggering cause for a stranding event is a weather front with winds strong enough to push the torpid turtles onto a high-tide washed shoreline.  Dennis will dispatch volunteers to highest probability beaches based on experience and wind direction.

Cape Cod’s media continues its strong tradition of supporting sea turtle rescues.  The Best Read Guide for Cape Cod, which is freely and liberally distributed to visitors and residents of the Land of Ooze, features an article on sea turtle strandings in its October 2001 edition.  The Cape Cod Times recently spotlighted a grant to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to initiate proactive searches for sea turtles before they’ve become critically cold-stunned by plunging fall temperatures.  The Cape Codder heralded today’s kick-off session to garner public interest.  The Provincetown Banner and the Boston Globe, among a host of other local, regional, and national publications, provide terrific supportive coverage of these strandings.

But before we get too far ahead of the season, a gorgeous Halloween-styled box turtle introduced herself this morning.  This 15-year-old beauty was spotted strolling along Lieutenant Island Road.  She weighed 461 grams and measured 13.4 centimeters long.  She reminds us that a few more hatchlings still need to hatch, and terrapins still need to find comfortably warm and muddy hibernacula to settle for the winter, and box turtles still need to do a bit more munching before they slip beneath a lush blanket of brush and fallen leaves for brumation.  “Too soon, Turtleman,” she said. “Far too soon to forget your faithful neighbors for these tropical sightseers.”