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Cold water leaving Atlantic sea turtles stunned

December 15, 2010

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BEAUFORT, N.C.—An early blast of cold weather along the Atlantic seaboard has wildlife experts scrambling to save dozens of sea turtles stunned by the chilled water.

More than 200 turtles rescued from Massachusetts to North Carolina have been getting treatment in several coastal states. And on Wednesday, a U.S. Coast Guard crew took about 40 rehabilitated turtles dozens of miles offshore -- an eight-hour round trip -- to release them in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.

To handle all the reptiles, the Coast Guard needed to use one of its 110-foot cutters.

"It's part of our mission to protect marine life," said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Caleb Peacock. "Anytime we can lend a hand, then we definitely volunteer to do so."

Some of the sea turtles found cold-stunned in recent days have died. Others have developed pneumonia and are still undergoing treatment. Kelly Thorvalson, who is leading the care for some of them as the sea turtle rescue program manager with the South Carolina Aquarium, said her facility is providing antibiotics, daily fluids and vitamin injections.

"Some are certainly in worse shape than others," she said. She expects all those being treated to survive.

Wildlife experts say they are still finding more turtles who need help. Those stunned by cold water typically wash up on shore.

Matthew Godfrey, the state sea turtle biologist for North Carolina' Wildlife Resources Commission, said turtles typically run into problems in the sounds off North Carolina's coast or in Cape Cod. The turtles will begin migrating south when they feel water temperatures dropping, but the geography of the Outer Banks or the Massachusetts coast can block them from finding an exit.

"Sometimes they don't get out fast enough," he said.