Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network Works to Rehabilitate 19 Sea Turtles
The recent cold weather has had a devasting impact on endangered sea turtles, and as a result Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network is taking care of 18 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and one green sea turtle suffering from cold stunning. The Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were part of a large cold-stunning event along the New England coast, while the green sea turtle was found floating in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. All the turtles are being rehabilitated at Audubon’s Aquatic Center at the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center for eventual release into the Gulf of Mexico.
Typically, sea turtles migrate to warmer waters in the fall, but, if they don’t make the migration before coastal water temperatures drop, they can suffer from hypothermia, also known as cold-stunning. Symptoms of cold-stunning can include decreased heart and respiration rates, decreased circulation, and lethargy. All can be followed by shock and pneumonia.
This group of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is part of a larger group found washed up on the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They were first transported to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital for stabilization and initial treatment before being flown to rehabilitation facilities along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, including CWN, for longer term rehabilitation. Based on their size, all are considered to be juveniles and are estimated to be between two and four years old. Each turtle was given a “spicy” name by the CWN team – Basil, Thyme, Cilantro, Oregano, Sesame, Paprika, Saffron, Tony (Chachere), Cinnamon, Cayenne, Nutmeg, Chicory, Mint, Lavender, Ginger, Tabasco, Rosemary, and Wasabi.
“Each year hundreds of sea turtles become cold stunned in the New England area due to declining water temperatures and a shift in wind patterns. Luckily these turtles were found before their health was too compromised, and we are giving them the treatment they need,” said Audubon Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding, Rescue, and Rehab Coordinator Gabriella Harlamert. “Each turtle will get a complete physical and we will continue their rehabilitation with the ultimate goal of releasing into them into the Gulf of Mexico when temperatures are more suitable.”
The Kemp’s ridley turtles arrived in New Orleans from New England as part of a multi-stop transport by Turtles Fly Too, Inc. which recruits “Turtle Fliers,” who donate their expertise, aircraft, fuel, and labor in order to help rescue efforts of endangered species around the country. Pilot Ken Andrews and his father Larry flew these rescued turtles from Massachusetts to several southern and Gulf coast locations, including Audubon.
Once with CWN, each turtle was given a physical examination, diagnostic imaging, blood work, and a swim test to determine their overall health and condition. In spite of the long transport journey, the turtles are in good condition and are already on the road to recovery.
“These Kemp’s ridley turtles are suffering from chronic cold stunning, meaning they were exposed to cold water much longer than they can withstand. We are thankful to have the opportunity to work with them and are grateful for other groups across the country that are dedicated to the conservation of this endangered species,” said Harlamert. She added that the green sea turtle found at Port Fourchon will also be rehabilitated following cold stunning protocols for that species.
CWN team members developed specific treatment plans for each turtle and will monitor them intensively during their recovery. Currently, there is not an estimated timeframe for release into the Gulf of Mexico.
Coordinated by Audubon Nature Institute, CWN serves as NOAA Fisheries' primary marine mammal and sea turtle stranding network partner in Louisiana.
CWN is committed to the humane care and treatment of injured, ill, or displaced marine animals in Louisiana and is the only entity in the state responsible for the rehabilitation of live marine mammals and sea turtles. The information CWN collects from stranded animals provides a snapshot into the health of the marine environment and provides a better understanding of threats to marine mammals and sea turtles in the wild.
The public is advised to report all stranded marine mammals and sea turtles (live or dead) to CWN at 877-942-5343 .
When reporting strandings, the public should be prepared to give:
- Exact location and/or GPS coordinates,
- Photographs of the animal, and
- Nature of the report (type of animal/live or dead/size, etc.).
Recommendations when reporting a live stranded animal include:
- Put human safety above animal safety. If conditions are dangerous, do not attempt to approach the animal.
- Keep crowds away and noise levels down to avoid causing stress to the animal.
- Don't push an animal on shore back into the water.
- If the animal returns to the water on its own, don't attempt to interact with it.
- Leave all entanglements that may be present on the animal.
To donate to CWN and help their efforts to help these endangered animals, follow this link: https://audubontransactions.org/donations/donate-cwn.html