|A green turtle undergoes its daily physical at the |
New England Aquarium’s rehab facility. (Danielle Hall)
By Danielle Hall
December 29, 2016
A Kemp’s ridley turtle lies motionless, seemingly dead, along the high tide line on Skatet Beach. It’s exactly as Bob Prescott predicted. Prescott, the director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod, bends down to move the turtle out of the reach of the cold ocean water, and covers it in seaweed to shield it from the wind.
It’s 6:45 a.m. on November 24, 2016. When Prescott looked at the weather report the previous night, he saw that one of the year’s first winter storms would soon be descending on New England, crossing the Northeast from Buffalo to the Eastern coast and bringing with it icy temperatures, lake effect snow, and chilling winds. That’s when he knew he would be up early in the morning, walking the beaches of Eastham and Orleans, in search of turtles.
The middle of October marks the beginning of a dangerous “cold stun season” for sea turtles caught on these Northeastern shores. Hundreds of turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridleys, wash ashore each year once ocean temperatures sink to 50 degrees F. The geography of the Long Island Sound and the curving Cape Cod Peninsula create a barrier to turtles trying to swim south, away from rapidly cooling waters. Before they can flee, icy waters often stun the cold-blooded reptiles into a paralyzed state, leaving them at the mercy of the tides, currents, and wind.
Fortunately, Prescott has cold stun stranding predictions down to a science. Using years of wind and stranding pattern data, he understands how turtles are pushed by wind to specific beaches along the inner arm of the Cape Cod peninsula. But it wasn’t until recently that experts were even aware of the mass turtle strandings that occur across Northeastern shores. Turtle bones from archaeological digs suggest the phenomenon has been occurring for hundreds of years, possibly since the formation of the Cape.
Whether turtles disappeared at some point from Northeastern waters or we simply were unaware of their presence remains unclear. But in the past 30 years, scientists have been stumped by a sudden upsurge in turtles found stranded, motionless and on the brink of death along these shores.
Read more at Smithsonian.com HERE.