A juvenile, cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is on the road to recovery Friday after washing up on the Chappaquiddick side of Norton Point Beach Thursday morning.
Will Geresy, a beach ranger for the Trustees of Reservations, found the juvenile turtle Thursday and called Island naturalist Gus Ben David to take a look at it. When Mr. Ben David arrived, he said the turtle “was just solid. But I watched it, saw one little movement and knew we had a live turtle.”
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are among the smallest species of sea turtles, reaching about two feet in shell length and weighing up to 100 pounds. They are also one of the most endangered species of sea turtle, found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico but also as far north as Nova Scotia. For the turtles that do venture north, the southern migration can be perilous if they leave too late and get caught in rapidly cooling water.
Mr. Ben David said Cape Cod Bay can be particularly difficult for the turtles to navigate.
“They stay up here too long, get caught in the elbow of the Cape trying to head south, can’t come back around and the water temperatures drop quickly. Once it drops, they become immobile,” he said.
Mr. Ben David said the warming process for a cold-stunned sea turtle has to be done carefully and thoughtfully. Warming them up too quickly is “the worst thing you can do…You basically warm them up in stages.”
Mr. Ben David started the turtle in a room at 54 degrees Fahrenheit. He said the turtle’s body temperature had reached 52 degrees Fahrenheit by mid afternoon. Later in the evening, he moved the turtle into a warmer room, 63 degrees Fahrenheit to be precise, before carefully securing the turtle in a box for a ride on the M/V Martha’s Vineyard ferry Friday morning.
On the Woods Hole side, a volunteer from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary picked up the turtle and drove it to their rehabilitation center.
After a stop in Wellfleet, Mr. Ben David said the turtle will eventually be taken to the New England Aquarium in Boston. The marine biologists in Boston will then monitor the turtle’s body weight and determine the right time to fly them to South Carolina where they will be released.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles washing ashore on the Vineyard is not a highly uncommon occurrence, Mr. Ben David said. He added that anyone who finds a sea turtle, even it appears to be dead, should contact him immediately and not disturb the animal.
Mr. Ben David can be reached at 508-627-5634, or call the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2614.