Sea Turtles

Thanks to dollars from Titusville, cold-stunned turtles, some with pneumonia, from Cape Cod, Mass., are rehabilitating in the sun in Juno Beach, Fla.

A $50,000 grant from the Fleming Family Foundation in Titusville allowed for the purchase of three 2,000-gallon tanks and supplies for the rehabilitation of 10 loggerhead turtles at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.

Those turtles washed up on the shores of Cape Cod suffering from hypothermia.

When sea water dips below 50 degrees, generally around Nov. 1 off the Massachusetts coast, sea turtles in that water can become immobile and wash up on shore.

Record numbers of cold-stunned sea turtles, including loggerheads, have washed up on Cape Cod shores this year.

The loggerhead is listed as an endangered species internationally and a threatened species in the U.S.

Cape Cod has a unique event each year in which volunteers collect stranded sea turtles which are then taken to the New England Aquarium.

Aquarium Spokesperson Tony LaCasse described Cape Cod as 60-miles of “bucket” with land west, south, and east. As the water temperatures drop, turtles head south. If they are close enough to the Massachusetts coast, they get stuck in the bucket. As they spend more time in water under 50 degrees, the turtles can become hypothermic and strand.

The efforts of the “Marine Animal Stranding Network” have resulted in a majority of this year’s turtles surviving. Rescuing stranded turtles is an annual event on Cape Cod, LaCasse said.

The New England Aquarium is accustomed to housing hypothermic turtles – usually about 70 turtles, almost all of them young Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, weighing in from 2 to 15 pounds. “We can handle about 70 to 75 of them short-term,” LaCasse said.

When loggerheads strand, they are usually young and may be suffering from some other health problem. In a typical year, the aquarium might take in four or five loggerheads.

“This year was really unusual in two aspects,” LaCasse said. “We had 242 (turtles) – it was off the chart.”

And, of those, about 100 were loggerheads. “The most we ever had before was in the teens,” he said.

He said experts were speculating as to why the turtles stranded in record numbers. “We’re not sure what happened. Most of those loggerheads that were coming in were fine” other than the hypothermia.

The facility cannot deal with 100 40- to 100-pound loggerheads and 140 turtles of other species.

“Getting them into the space was a great challenge,” LaCasse said. “We had turtles that were completely savable but would have died.”

The turtles needed immediate care to bring their body temperatures up to safe levels. “We have these baby pools we put them in,” he said. But that is not an acceptable long-term solution.

“Once the turtles were rewarmed and stabilized” they were sent south to facilities with the space and expertise to help, he said.

One of those facilities is Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Palm Beach County on Florida’s Atlantic coast. “We are proud to be able to help our friends at the New England Aquarium with this rescue mission,” board chairman Brian Waxman said.

However, space was already at a premium at the center and the contribution from the Fleming Family Foundation was the key to accommodating more turtles. “Thanks to a generous donation from the Fleming Family Foundation, we purchased three extra tanks and necessary supplies to rehabilitate these cold-stunned sea turtles,” Waxman said.

The Foundation has contributed to the center’s efforts in the past and the committee decided to continue doing so in this time of extraordinary need. “They put in a wish list and the committee reviewed it,” Fleming Family Foundation Relationship Manager Lynette Pedensky said.

William J. Fleming was a Titusville native who made his fortune in the oil business. In his later years, he moved to Palm Beach, Fla., and the foundation still has contacts there, according to Pedensky.

Ten turtles, not the first group of the season, arrived at the center on Monday Jan. 14.

“The ten turtles from the second batch have a variety of different issues, as would be expected, and are more severely affected than the first batch because of colder water temperatures at stranding,” Dr. Charles Manire, DVM, the center’s director of research and rehabilitation, said. “All of the second batch have frostbite to a greater or lesser degree. Each is getting individual attention and individual treatment, mostly involving antibiotics and antifungals.”

“Our biggest concern is for the two with pneumonia, but we are hoping to see improvement in the near future,” Manire said.

The health of each turtle is reflected in its willingness to eat.

The two with pneumonia haven’t eaten anything, according to Manire. “Several have gastrointestinal issues and are eating sometimes but not consistently. A few are doing very well and are eating everything we offer to them.”

When the time comes to release the turtles back into the ocean, some may be equipped with tags for satellite tracking.

A loggerhead named Donovan was released Jan. 3 with such a tag. Its location, path, and the temperature of the water it is in can be seen at www.marinelife.org/track.