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

Sea Turtle Strandings Begin with a Big Bang
ó 2 November 2002

Frigid overnight conditions, water temperatures dropping into the 40s, and winds howling around 25 knots from the northwest ó a cold front churned the bay into a briny cauldron.  Shorebirds hunkered in groups like penguins to cut the windís sharpness while feeding along the receding tide line.  And all this energy dredges up sea turtles who have been trapped in Cape Cod Bay by falling temperatures and lay torpid on the sea bottom, hoping against hope that this “cold snap” will quickly pass.  But winter in the Great White North passes exceedingly slowly.

So, it was no surprise when the phone rang at six this morning reporting the first cold-stunned Kempís ridley of the 2002 season.  On her morning walk at Crosby Landing in Brewster, turtle patroller Mary Myers spotted the turtle rolling in on the rising tide and waded into the freezing water to rescue it.  She moved it above the impending high water line and covered it with dry seaweed to prevent hypothermia should the turtle be exposed to the raw wind.

Thatís where I found this two-year-old ridley, weighing 3.2 kilograms and measuring less than 30 centimeters long.

Before the day ended, we had recovered four Kempís ridleys from the shoreline: two in Brewster and two in Dennis.  Three were alive and one was DOA.  What was a surprise was the third turtle of the day found by Jean Condit, a veteran sea turtle rescuer.  She discovered the smallest Kempís ridley we have ever seen in Cape Cod Bay.  Her little turtle measured 18.2 centimeters long and weighed only 950 grams ó much smaller even than a mature terrapin.  To think that this tiny critter hatched in Mexico about a year ago and traveled the open ocean to reach our shore is quite amazing.

As I drafted this entry, we were preparing for night patrol.  The wind still howled and temperatures continued to drop.  High tide came a little after nine tonight and if those nighttime turtles were to stay on the beach until the morning, they would have no chance of survival.  So, off we went, bundled like Michelin Cyclopes with headlamp eyes strung around our foreheads.  Results: three more cold-stunned sea turtles ó an exquisite green from Ellis Landing, a small ridley from Linnell Landing, and another ridley from Crosby Landing ó all in Brewster.

For the first day of the 2002 stranding season, we recovered a total of seven sea turtles.  An unprecedented start, which ominously hints at what we might expect in the days and weeks ahead.