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

Nighttime Addendum — Evening 12 November 2001

My God, it was cold — but incredibly beautiful.  Crystal clear, Arctic dry skies.  Constellations so crisp they looked artificial.  With dew points in single digits, we knew no stranded sea turtle could survive this frigid night.  So, we assembled a small team to leap frog the beaches from Eastham to Brewster to sweep for any cold-stunned animals tossed ashore with the 9:00 p.m. high tide.  When we reached the beach, the air temperature had already dropped below 36 degrees with north winds pounding the surf at more than 20 mph. Water temperature had dropped to 39.3° Fahrenheit.

A half mile west of Linnell Landing in Brewster proved landfall for the season’s first green sea turtle.  We average one green every other year, so each one is a very special find.  This turtle measured 13.5 inches long and weighed 5.2 kilograms.  With so much body mass, it wasn’t slowed much by the weather and pranced around the triage center playing king of the hill with the “resident” Kemp’s ridleys.

A little before 10 p.m., as we walked the shoreline between Linnell Landing and Crosby Beach, within 50 feet of where Abigail found her turtle this morning, I spotted a Kemp’s ridley along the tide line still wet with brine.  A little under 9 inches long, it weighed 1.7 kilograms.  With a surprisingly low body temperature of 39.5 degrees, it still was quite responsive.

Clearly, low air and water temperatures are taking their toll on the smaller sea turtles trapped in Cape Cod Bay.  So far this stranding season has followed the usual pattern.  As water temperatures drop below 50 degrees in the bay, sea turtles begin to wash ashore beginning with the smaller ridleys in the 2 kilogram and less range.  We’ll see if the trend continues with the next storm front as larger ridleys should begin arriving, followed shortly by the smaller, 20-to-25 pound loggerheads and ending with the heftier juvenile loggerheads up in the 50-to-70 pound range.

For the night, we have four ridleys and a green resting in the Sanctuary as they wait for the next stage in their journey back to the wild: the trip to Boston and the New England Aquarium.