Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Local aquarium helps rehabilitate cold-stunned sea turtles

Six Kemp’s ridley sea turtles — among 200 rescued and sent to all state aquariums recently — are under the care of professional staff. (Courtesy NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher)

FORT FISHER — The recent drop in temperatures has led to an increase in rehabilitation needs at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

Six Kemp’s ridley sea turtles — among 200 rescued and sent to all state aquariums recently — are under the care of professional staff. They arrived Friday, Jan. 26, and were weighed, measured and observed swimming in their temporary home at the aquarium.

The weather has resulted in the cold-stunning sea turtles, which can cause weakness and inactivity. This occurs normally as water temperatures fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Reptilian, sea turtles are not able to regulate body temperature.

“Cold-stunned sea turtles become lethargic and eventually are unable to swim causing them to float at the surface or wash up on beaches,” Stephanie Dwyer, assistant husbandry curator, explained in a press release.

Turtles in need of help are found by area biologists and nonprofit volunteers from Cape Lookout National Seashore and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), and sea turtle conservation groups. The Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.) locate, record, and transport patients to regional facilities.

Patients are often divided among various rehabilitation centers along the coast — for example, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (KBSTRRC) in Surf City.

It can takes weeks to months for the turtles to regain strength and health. 

“We work closely with our veterinary team to administer individual care as each turtle is affected differently by cold-stunning,” Ryan McAlarney, husbandry curator, said in the release.

Staff oversee feedings, medication needs, and wound care. The turtles slowly warm to ensure swimming capabilities and when ready for release are microchipped in the front flipper.

If a sluggish turtle is spotted in the water or on the beach this time of year, it’s important to not direct or push them back in but instead call the Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline to report it: 252-241-7367.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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