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As stranding season begins, hundreds of sea turtles recover in Quincy



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Sea turtles swim into Cape Cod Bay for feeding opportunities during the warmer months, but get trapped once temperatures drop.

Hundreds of cold-stunned turtles are examined and treated at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy each year. New England Aquarium

Staff members at the New England Aquarium said this week they have treated more than 200 sea turtles that became cold-stunned and washed up along the Massachusetts coast.

Each year, hundreds of turtles are rehabbed at the aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy. Turtles typically begin to strand along Cape Cod Bay in early November; teams from the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary comb the shorelines to search for the creatures. Most of the turtles that strand here are critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles, the smallest sea turtles in the world. 

They are brought to the Quincy facility where they are treated for hypothermia and a variety of other injuries and illnesses. 

So far, aquarium staffers have treated 214 sea turtles this year. This includes 189 Kemp’s ridley turtles, 19 green turtles, and 6 loggerheads, the aquarium said in a press release. 


Five turtles were found washed up on shore in Hull and Hingham, which the aquarium said was an “unusual occurrence” that could mean sea turtles in the area are inhabiting a wider range of locations. 

“This sea turtle stranding season has gotten off to a later start than the past few years. We are ramping up now and have seen 134 turtles in just the past five days. Whether it is 1 or 100 turtles in a given day, our team at the New England Aquarium is ready to help give these turtles the best shot of being returned home,” Director of Rescue and Rehabilitation Adam Kennedy said in the release.

Cade Cod poses a unique challenge

Adult Kemp’s ridley turtles spend most of their time in the Gulf of Mexico. Females nest there, but juvenile turtles gradually make their way up the east coast. As they feed and grow, the turtles move closer to shore. By the time they reach the Gulf of Maine, warm summer waters invite the animals to move into Cape Cod Bay. There are great feeding opportunities for the turtles off the coast of the Cape in warmer months, but as temperatures dip, the area becomes a deadly trap. 

When the waters cool, the turtles naturally try to swim back south. But, the aquarium said, Cape Cod’s unique hook shape gets in the way. The turtles then try to conserve energy, floating near the top of the water. Winds eventually blow most of them onto beaches, where rescue teams hopefully find them in time. 

Rehabbing sick and injured turtles

Rescued turtles are evaluated in Quincy using physical exams, bloodwork, and X-rays. Dehydration and pneumonia are very common, as are shell fractures. The most common cause of death is severe lung infection. 

“These turtles are often critically ill and require a variety of medical treatments to ensure they have the best chance for survival,” Dr. Kathryn Tuxbury, Senior Veterinarian at the aquarium, said in the release.

About 78% percent of the turtles treated by the New England Aquarium survive, Kennedy said last winter.


Turtles can sometimes require more than a year of treatment. The turtles that can be rehabbed quickly are treated and moved to secondary facilities whenever possible, in order to make room for new arrivals.

Volunteer pilots with the organization  Turtles Fly Too began transporting turtles last week. They flew 35 turtles to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, also in North Carolina. Another 15 turtles were driven to the National Aquarium by Baltimore. 

Turtles that are seriously sick or injured remain at the aquarium’s Quincy facility throughout the winter. If they recover sufficiently, they are brought to the Carolinas and Georgia for release around April. Some that require the most treatment are kept in Quincy and released in Nantucket Sound in the summer. 

Staffers at the Sea Turtle Hospital are noticing a general uptick in the number of turtles being stranded each year, the aquarium said. That trend will likely continue as the Gulf of Maine gets warmer and warmer.

Some research suggests that they should prepare for thousands of sea turtles to wash up on Massachusetts beaches in the 2030’s, Kennedy said earlier this year. The Quincy facility is only designed to house between 40 and 80 turtles long-term.

Source: Boston Globe


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