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

Variety is the Spice of Turtle Life — 4 November 2002

When Bill Allan brought in the 10th stranded sea turtle from Orleans’ Skaket Beach on Sunday morning, things in the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary were beginning to assume an all too familiar, if not very welcomed, look.  Later in the day, one more Kemp’s ridley was recovered from Point of Rocks in Brewster, bringing the first 24-hour tally to 11 cold-stunned turtles: ten ridleys (the critically endangered, rarest sea turtle in the world) and one exquisite green (front right).  Only two were found dead, while nine were transported to Boston’s New England Aquarium for medical care and the start of the rehabilitation process.

These first arrivals were, as expected, smallish critters.  Cold-stunned turtles tend to arrive in increasing size order from small ridley to large loggerhead as the season progresses, with the more massive animals better equipped to resist temperature loss for longer periods.  Six ridleys on this first day were under 8.5 inches long; during the entire 2001 event in which 90 ridleys stranded, only eight ridleys measured less than 8.5 inches.  If bell-shaped curves are destiny, then life will be awfully exciting in the Land of Ooze for the next two months.

On Saturday’s night patrol, Sanctuary director Bob Prescott rescued a beautiful green sea turtle from Ellis Landing in Brewster.  Under 11 inches long and weighing about 5.75 pounds, this animal was active and in generally good shape.  You can see how alert she was as she caught a deep breath while waiting for transport to Boston.

One of the ridleys brought along a hitchhiker.  A gooseneck barnacle clung tenaciously to her carapace, probably wondering why it had chosen this particular turtle to ride south with.  We removed the barnacle and gave it a new home in the Sanctuary wet lab.  Around the base of the barnacle you can see the thick, heavy algae infestation, which afflicts a large number of the stranded ridleys.

While winds have subsided for a day or two, and no sea turtles are being tossed on shore, turtle rescues continue.  This afternoon a couple visiting the Outer Cape for a long weekend found a tiny diamondback terrapin hatchling on the tombolo that connects Wellfleet’s Great Island to the mainland.  Hatchling 628-02 measured only 2.79 centimeters long and weighed just 5 grams.  He had already lost his egg tooth and was found heading upland from the marsh, a bit sluggish and cold-stunned himself.  Once warmed in my “heated swimming pool”" (a sushi dish — don’t tell him! — in a sandy recovery tank), #628 became quite active again.

The long-range forecast calls for another front to pass Cape Cod mid week.  If it brings sustained winds for 24 hours or longer, by Thursday we should have a good insight into the number of this year's strandings.