By Brooks Hays
Like so many other marine animals, sea turtles are migratory -- chasing ideal temperatures and food sources up and down the coast. Sometimes, however, those temperatures drop without warning, leaving turtles trapped.
That's what happened to a handful of sea turtles in Cape Cod as what's called the "sea turtle stranding season" begins in the area. Luckily, dedicated animal rescuers are already on the lookout. Over the weekend, nine turtles suffering from hypothermia were rescued form the shores of the Outer Cape. All nine were Kemp's ridley sea turtles -- a critically endangered species and one of the most protected turtles in the world.
The predicament of the nine black-shelled turtles, found near Eastham, is tear-inducing but it's not surprising. Every year, as fall turns to winter, dozens of sea turtles -- having spent the summer feasting on crabs -- suddenly find themselves in increasingly cold water, disoriented by the heightened chop of winter waves. While most sea turtles move south as summer fades to fall and fall turns to winter, juveniles are sometimes trapped and left behind.
According to the New England Aquarium, rescuers will likely find somewhere between 90 to 100 sea turtles -- a mix of three different species -- stranded on Cape Cods beaches. Once warmed and woken from their cold-induced shock, the turtles will typically require treatment for a range of other problems brought on by the days of disorientation -- malnutrition, pneumonia and blood disorders. Once nursed back to health, the turtles are usually deposited off the coast of Georgia and Florida, where waters are warm and food is plentiful.
Biologists with New England Aquarium and Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay have been rescuing stranded turtles along the coast of Massachusetts for more than 20 years.