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

First Sea Turtle Stranding of 2001 Season
— 07 November 2001

Gusts began howling out of the northwest on Monday, churning Cape Cod Bay and everything therein for the last 48 hours. With so much energy rippling through the water, we anticipated cold-stunned sea turtles might begin appearing on beaches.  At sunset last night, Rags and I spot-checked the Brewster coastline just after high tide.  We found nothing but wind-tossed seaweed and briny spray.  We were one tide too soon.

This morning the first cold-stunned sea turtle of the year, a Kemp’s ridley, was discovered on Crosby Landing — the same beach that provided the first stranding of the 2000 season, too (see First Sea Turtle Rescue of the Fall Season — 1 & 2 November 2000).  Bob Prescott, executive director of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and coordinator of the sea turtle stranding network on Cape Cod, handled the call from a resident volunteer who had done everything right.  She placed the turtle above the high water line, covered it with seaweed to protect from wind chill and ambient cold air, and distinctively marked the spot with gaudy flotsam and jetsam.  Bob brought the ridley back to the Sanctuary for first stage assessment and treatment.

This turtle proved an interesting critter.  More than any other sea turtle we’ve seen, this ridley was caked literally from head to toe with a thick seaweed layer.  A juvenile, it measured about ten inches long and weighed 2.7 kilograms.  Its internal body temperature had dropped to 46.1° Fahrenheit.  Yet, the turtle was quite reactive to stimuli.

The ridley cleaned up nicely, revealing a rather eventful, if somewhat checkered, past.  This turtle was missing it entire right rear flipper and the tip of its right front flipper; it had a notch chunked out of its marginal scutes just above its right rear limb.  We suspect these injuries came in a predator attack.  There was also a patch of exposed bone on the right rear side of its carapace.

All in all, it appears to be enjoying the rather more peaceful setting of “dry dock” at the Sanctuary.  After this beauty shot was taken, the turtle was “oiled down” to prevent any dehydration while she awaits transport to the New England Aquarium for more substantial medical care.

Later in the morning another Kemp’s ridley was recovered north of First Encounter beach in Eastham.  This one had obviously come ashore — unseen — the day before and succumbed to the overnight cold.

As winds continue from the northwest, searchers are combing the beaches Wednesday evening and again Thursday morning.  If we can reach stranded animals early like the turtle from Crosby Landing, they’ll have a good chance to make a full recovery and return to the wild by next spring.  The Kemp’s ridley is such a rare and endangered species that any one of these juveniles we can save may make a difference.