Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Audubon tallies Cape turtle strandings

WELLFLEET — The Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has tallied up the numbers for this year's turtle stranding season and the total is the third largest since the facility started keeping records.

Of the 192 turtles recovered from Cape beaches, there were 178 Kemp's ridleys, eight green turtles, four loggerheads, and two unidentified specimens. This year's stranding total was surpassed in 1999, when there were 278 stranded turtles, and 2002, when there were 201.

Some sea turtles become stunned by the cold when fall arrives, bringing chilly waters and air temperatures. With their metabolism slowing down, the turtles can't escape and eventually float to shore, where they either freeze to death or are rescued. All of the turtle species affected in this year's stranding season are considered threatened, with the Kemp's ridley turtles among the most endangered in the world.

Cold-stunned sea turtles are usually rescued by beach patrols manned by Mass Audubon staffers and volunteers. They are taken to the New England Aquarium in Boston for rehabilitation if they are still alive.

The stranding season ends when ocean temperatures drop to the point where any remaining turtles die. Water temperatures were between 35 and 42 degrees this week — far too cold for the marine reptiles.

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