Monday, 4:06 PM
Warm weather delays arrival of sea turtles on Cape
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
New England Aquarium intern Jenna Javar holds a rescued turtle, while a biologist checks its fins.
By Globe Staff
Chilled and disoriented sea turtles have begun washing up on Cape Cod beaches, arriving a couple of weeks later than usual this year because of the warmer than usual weather, experts at the New England Aquarium said today.
Twenty-five to 150 sea turtles are stranded each year as the water temperatures turn colder. Usually, the turtles begin to wash up around the end of October. This year, beach walkers in Brewster and Dennis found the first three turtles of the season on Sunday.
Aquarium officials pointed to the warmer than usual water temperatures in Cape Cod Bay. The water temperature in late October was still 56 degrees, but temperatures have turned downward since, helped along by the recent northeaster. By today, temperatures had dropped to about 48.
Ninety percent of the turtles that wash up are Kemp's-Ridley turtles, an endagered species, said Tony LaCasse, an Aquarium spokesman.
For some reason, many of the young turtles, rather than migrating south in the fall, get caught on the north side of the Cape as water temperatures drop. Then, when temperatures dip below 50 degrees, they become hypothermic and drift helplessly, stunned by the cold.
Volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary in Wellfleet hike Cape Cod Bay beaches after high tide, hoping to rescue the turtles before raccoons, birds, or dogs find them.
The turtles are examined by veterinarians and biologists at the aquarium who get them back into shape. Nearly 90 percent survive and all of those that can forage for themselves are released back into the wild, the aquarium said.
LaCasse said the aquarium, which has rehabilitated and released more than 400 turtles over years, is hoping to help rebuild a "critically endangered species."
"We feel very good and confident about that work, in terms of its cumulative effect over a long period of time," he said.