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

“Never give up” — 10 November 2001

The Naviator left Wellfleet Harbor at 10:00 this morning for a Massachusetts Audubon Society outing to submerged Billingsgate Island.  While nominally billed as a shorebird and seal cruise, it still provided an opportunity to search for distressed sea turtles and to sample environmental conditions in Cape Cod Bay.

Water temperature registered ~ 52° Fahrenheit.  A plankton drag yielded a thick, rich concentration in the bay — a fact that may account for the large number of basking sharks we’ve spotted from boat and plane on turtle patrols last week (see In Search of Sea Turtles — 31 October 2001).

And, of course, there were seals aplenty lounging in the November sun on a sandbar island at the tip of Jeremy Point.  But we saw no sea turtles.

This afternoon, though, we got an unusual call.  A resident in North Truro, on the Atlantic Ocean side, found a sea turtle at High Head near the northern tip of the Cape.  Our records list less than a handful of strandings on the entire Atlantic backside beach of Cape Cod during the last couple of decades.  And with the wind pounding out of the northwest for several days, and fairly quiescent today, it’s not easy to construct a theory to explain this stranding location.  We expect that some turtles will try to work their way out of the Cape Cod trap as water temperatures plummet, and in their already weakened conditions, tidal forces may drive them onto the beach.  Or perhaps this Kemp’s ridley is simply the exception that proves some rule we’ve yet to firmly establish.

Continuing a most unusual story, this 2-kilogram ridley reached the Sanctuary D.O.A. — or at least that’s what the rescuer reported after a preliminary field examination and more detailed inspection in the triage room.  Its right front shoulder was severely abraded and its eyes were sunken deeply into their sockets.  Its normally white plastron was littered with pink and bright red blotches as blood settled to the bottom.

But as I checked the “freshly dead” box, we spotted a subtle flipper movement.  Sure enough, the ridley flinched whenever its flippers were touched.  A tiny twitch could be detected from the right eye.  And just after I snapped the shot below, the head lifted independently from its foam mattress.  I crossed out “freshly dead” and checked “alive.”

There was some brown algae on its carapace, but nowhere near what we saw on the 7 November turtle.  As with most ridleys, it showed a “halo” on the back center along the vertebral scutes where the algae had been cleared away.

Today’s Kemp ridley reinforces our rescue motto: “Never give up.”  And as long as the turtles don’t, we won’t either.