Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hypothermic turtle rescued on Cape Cod

A large sea turtle is recovering in the water tank at New England Aquarium this morning, after being rescued from a salt marsh in Cape Cod where it was stranded and in danger of dying of hypothermia.

New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the 175-pound adult female loggerhead sea turtle was discovered inside the Drummer Cove Pond salt marsh in Wellfleet by a Rhode Island man Sunday evening. The man contacted officials at the Massachusetts Audubon sanctuary, which decided to wait and see if the turtle would move itself into the waters. The turtle stayed put.

New England Aquarium biologists, contacted by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, traveled to the marsh Monday morning to examine the turtle, which they have named Acadia. The turtle had a body temperature of 54.8 degrees and was deemed hypothermic.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, LaCasse explained, and their internal body temperature changes based on the temperature around them. The temperature of Cape Cod Bay was near 60 degrees.

"Water temperatures do not change as quickly as air temperatures," LaCasse said. "We think she was left behind by the tide and became hypothermic."

The turtle was taken to the aquarium in Boston for examinations on Monday, LaCasse said. Bloodwork was abnormal, and she was found to be anemic with low blood sugar levels. Acadia is "alert, but lethargic," LaCasse said, and is currently swimming in the large tank at the aquarium with other turtles.

"With a turtle that size, it should be more difficult for us to handle," LaCasse said, referring to her lethargic manner. "There's some other abnormalities, and we're looking to see how to treat her."

Although it is common in November for turtles to be stranded around Cape Cod, Acadia is a different story. She was found in mid-October and she is an older, larger turtle, compared with the younger turtles that are usually found that weigh four to 10 pounds.

"Most turtles we rescue in November are Kemp's Ridley turtles, who are hypothermic and then become stranded," LaCasse added. "Acadia was out of the water due to the low tide and then became hypothermic."

In September, turtles that stay around the Cape during the summer to feast on crabs begin their southward migration to warmer waters. Some stay behind too long. Twenty-five to 150 hypothermic turtles are found around the Cape each fall.

Acadia is scheduled for more examinations over the next few days. If she is fine to go in the next few days, LaCasse said, she will be taken to the mid-Atlantic states and released there, where temperatures are similar, but she'll have a shorter trip south.

"If Acadia's recovery takes weeks or months, she'll be taken to Georgia or Florida and be released there, where water temperatures would be in the 70s," LaCasse said.


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