National Aquarium Rescues 21 ‘Cold-Stunned’ Sea Turtles

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Some of the rescued turtles, Courtesy National Aquarium

Some more shelled critters are taking refuge at the National Aquarium. This time, many of them are of the endangered variety. And judging by their newly given names, they may also possess magical abilities.

The aquarium recently took in 21 turtles found off the coast of Cape Cod, 16 of which belong to the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley species. They were among nearly 500 turtles found in the Northeast that had been “stunned” by a prolonged drop in temperatures, according to an aquarium spokeswoman.

The late fall and early winter months can be hard on sea turtles. Since they’re cold-blooded, they rely on their surroundings for their body temperatures. When sea temperatures go low and stay low, they can suffer hypothermic reactions, which wildlife experts refer to as “cold stunning” for the reptiles. (Here’s a nifty diagram that explains further.) This past winter’s count of cold-stunned turtles was the third-largest on record, according to the aquarium.

Luckily, these creatures have been given a temporary new home in Baltimore to recuperate. Jennifer Dittmar, manager of the aquarium’s animal rescue team, said much of the rehab care involves providing them with oral antibiotics and other medications in their food. “Obviously these turtles are sick and in need of a lot of medical attention,” she said.

They also conduct physical exams, monitor the turtles’ weight and clean and disinfect their rehab pool, which is housed one level down from the “Dolphin Discovery” building in the main building. Their team consist of both paid staff and volunteers, Dittmar said.

Every cold-stun season, the rescue team picks a theme for their facility. After “Harry Potter” just barely lost out to “Transformers” last year, the team went with it for this year’s theme. To give an example of how this theme is put to use, the aquarium knows thats Harry, Hermione and Filch are among the group that are still recovering. Meanwhile, Dumbledore, an Atlantic green turtle, and Ron, a Kemp’s Ridley turtle, have already finished their rehab and will be released in Florida by the end of January.

The aquarium is part of a national network of facilities that cares for rescued aquatic creatures. Since 1991, they’ve released more than 160 animals back into the open water, according to a release.

Helping both varieties of turtles is particularly important for rescuers. National Geographic says the the Kemp’s ridley turtles are one of the most endangered species in the world, with only an estimated 1,000 nesting females remaining in the wild. Dittmar said green turtles are also either threatened or endangered.

“Knowing that these populations are declining or that some of them may be rebounding but very slowly…it’s really important for us to be able to give all of these individual turtles a second chance,” she said.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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