May 28, 2022

Hundreds of frozen sea turtles wash up on Cape Cod

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Lured by warming ocean temperatures, sea turtles that thrive in tropical climates are extending their stays off the New England coast in the autumn – and it’s having deadly consequences for them.

During an unusual cold snap in November with single-digit temperatures and gale-force winds, at least 219 sea turtles washed up on the shores of Cape Cod. The frozen turtles were what experts call “cold-stunned.” This occurs when chilly water below 50 degrees Fahrenheit makes the turtles, who need external heat for their bodies to function, lose their ability to swim. They end up being helplessly carried along by the wind to the shore.

On Thanksgiving day alone, 82 sea turtles – mostly critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys — were discovered on the shore. They looked like they “were flash-frozen, flippers in all weird positions like they were swimming,” Robert Prescott, director of Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, told the Cape Cod Times.

Only one of those sea turtles survived.

Since the beginning of the year, nearly 600 cold-stunned sea turtles have washed ashore at Cape Cod. It’s the second-largest number since the early 1980s, when the sanctuary began its rescue program. The final total for the year could be over 1,000.

The weather has been “way too cold” for the turtles, Prescott told CNN.

“Everything was slushy by yesterday morning. Some of them are small. It didn’t take long for them to freeze.”

While about 80 percent of the sea turtles survived earlier this year, more recently the number has dwindled to about 40 percent. Most of them are Kemp’s ridleys, along with some leatherbacks and loggerheads. On Nov. 21, the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary took what may have been the largest sea turtle ever rescued in Massachusetts — a 300-pound loggerhead – to the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy. Mass., for medical treatment.

To make matters worse for the sea turtles who linger in Cape Cod, the bay’s hook-shaped geography makes it difficult for them to find their way back to Florida for the winter. “The shape of the bay just confuses them,” Prescott told NBC News.

While this fall’s weather in Cape Cod was unusually frigid, more sea turtles are likely to be cold-stunned there in the years ahead due to global warning. “The Gulf of Maine prior to 2010 was too cold for sea turtles to come into,” Prescott told CNN.

Because sea turtles are traveling farther north along the East Coast and staying there longer, “When we get these quick swings from warm to cooler, the turtles that haven’t made it south definitely get into trouble,” Wallace J. Nichols, a sea turtle biologist, told NBC News. “Climate change is impacting sea turtles very clearly.”

Over Thanksgiving weekend, when it conveniently wouldn’t get much publicity, the U.S. government released a shocking report about climate change and the necessity to take immediate steps to prevent disasters. The president of the United States, to no one’s surprise, said he didn’t believe the report, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed it was not based on facts.

The truth is that the consequences of climate change – like the freezing of all those endangered sea turtles — are already far too apparent, and we can’t afford to be in denial about it. Please sign and share this petition urging GOP congressmembers to take preventive actions now.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

Photo credit: Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary/Facebook

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