Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Middle school students find carcass of endangered sea turtle on Quincy beach

The Patriot Ledger

Quincy- When Meghan Caggiano and Emily Van Tassel walk the sea wall at Perry Beach, they usually look down at the water and see no wildlife.

That changed Nov. 18.

The two Broad Meadows Middle School seventh-graders at found the carcass of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the world’s most endangered sea turtle.

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle facts
  • The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle was placed on the endangered species list in 1970. It is now the most endangered sea turtle in the world. Over the centuries, people have harvested the eggs and killed the turtles for their meat and leather-like skin. More recent threats include suffocation in shrimpers’ large nets and ingesting floating trash that the turtles mistake for food. There are 20,000 adult Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles left.
  • Average size: 27-32 inches (smallest sea turtle in the world).
  • Average weight: 75-100 pounds.
  • Diet: Crabs, shrimp, snails, clams, jellyfish, sea stars and fish.
  • Description: Dark gray to gray-green carapace (upper shell), cream to tan plasteron (lower shell), streamlined shells, and appendages shaped like flippers. The turtle’s dark, spotted head and flippers contrast sharply with its pale body.
  • Habitat: They prefer open ocean and Gulf waters; the females only come ashore to lay eggs in sand.
Sources: New England Aquarium; Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; “Research and Management Techniques for the Conservation of Sea Turtles”

Full of excitement, they immediately called their science teacher, Debbie Baird, at school to describe their discovery and ask if they could bring it to class.

Another Kemp’s Ridley had been found in dead in Hull on Nov. 1.

“This is very unusual,” said New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse. “In all my time, I have never seen a Kemp’s Ridley turtle washed up on the South Shore.”

While the turtle is uncommon on the South Shore, it is a familiar sight on Cape Cod.

LaCasse said 28 cold-stunned Kemp’s Ridleys have been found from Dennis to Truro in the last week, 20 of them this weekend after the rainstorm.

The Kemp’s Ridleys, which hatch off the coast of Mexico, are the smallest and most endangered sea turtles in the world.

Rescuing a turtle
  • Move the turtle above the high-tide line.
  • Cover the turtle with seaweed and limit exposure to the wind.
  • Call animal rescue personnel or contact the New England Aquarium and leave an exact location as well as a description of landmarks. A rescue crew will come as soon as possible.
Source: New England Aquarium

Baby Kemp’s Ridley turtles, weighing 2 to 8 pounds, migrate as far as New England from Mexico, the Caribbean and the Carolinas to feed on crabs. In late August they swim back south to return to warmer waters.

When younger turtles encounter a strong current, they can have trouble swimming through it. As a result, they can wind up stuck in cold water and dying of hypothermia.

Last weekend, Massachusetts Audubon Society volunteers and personnel walked beaches from Eastham to Dennis and found five cold-stunned Kemp’s Ridleys and one green sea turtle.

The turtles were taken to the aquarium. Once healthy, they will be released into the wild.

Aquarium officials say the strandings are a natural occurrence as water temperatures drop.

The strandings usually start in early November. They have been delayed this year by the unusually warm temperatures.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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