Globe staff file photo/Dina Rudick
By Alex Katz, Globe Correspondent
Months after they were found near death on the beaches of Cape Cod, 18 endangered sea turtles will be returned to the ocean this afternoon on the shores of the lower Cape.
Staff and volunteers from the New England Aquarium and the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, will assist with the release.
The juvenile Kemp's Ridleys are the world's most endangered sea turtles, and the species most affected by the Gulf oil spill, aquarium officials said. Some scientists expect the oil to be largely gone by the time the turtles arrive in the Gulf, while others remain deeply worried about the long-term damage of dispersants used there.
The turtles were originally rescued last fall by the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay before being brought to the aquarium for life-saving medical care.
After months of rehabilitation, they are now ready for release. The sea turtles are expected to remain nearby and feed on crabs for the remainder of the summer, and then ultimately make their way down south.
At the end of every summer sea turtles can get trapped off Cape Cod. Their body temperature declines as the water temperature falls, and they become lethargic.
If the turtles are lucky, they wash up on beaches where more than 100 volunteers affiliated with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and staff there comb beaches to find them each winter. The near-death turtles are then brought to designated turtle rehabilitation centers to be treated for hypothermia, pneumonia, dehydration, shell and bone fractures, and infections.