Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center successfully releases final cold stunned New England sea turtle

Special to Gannett
Turtle 473 receives a final health assessment prior to release.

The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center in Northwest Florida has released the final cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from a group of 16 that they received on Dec. 17, 2021.  On Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, Turtle 473 was transported to Fort Clinch State Park, Florida, as determined by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), to be released into the Atlantic Ocean.

The group of 16 sea turtles arrived at the C.A.R.E. Center after being stranded off the coast of New England during a mass cold-stun event. They were transported by private plane to the local area, courtesy of volunteer pilots at Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit organization that provides air transportation for rescued endangered species to rehabilitation locations.

Upon arrival at the C.A.R.E. Center, each individual received an initial health assessment. They were checked for energy levels and their carapace, plastron, and flippers were examined for any injuries. The turtle's temperatures and heart rates were recorded, and bloodwork was taken to get a better insight into each turtle's health. Over the following days, the turtles underwent swim-tests and were given full, extensive exams, including x-rays. Once their health was fully assessed, a treatment plan was put in place for each individual turtle by the rehabilitation center’s veterinary team.

All of the sea turtles received antibiotics during their rehabilitation to aid in their recovery. Once the sea turtles were doing well, had gained weight, and were able to eat without assistance, they were deemed ready for release by the FWC. The first batch of cold-stunned Kemp’s ridleys that were ready to head back into the ocean were released in March, with other groups being released over the following months.

Turtle 473’s visit at the C.A.R.E. Center was prolonged due to an osteomyelitis bone infection in its ulna bone within the front left flipper. Surgery was required by the veterinarian team to remove the necrotic tissue and clean the area to allow healing.

“We are so happy to finally see turtle 473 head back into the ocean,” states Tabitha Siegfried, Stranding Coordinator for the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center. “Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world, so anything that we can do to try to conserve this precious species is vital. We are so thankful for everyone involved who has helped us to provide the best possible veterinary care for these turtles that came to us from the Northeastern seaboard of the Atlantic due to a cold-stun event."

Sea turtles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on the environmental temperature to regulate their body temperature. Cold stunning occurs when a sea turtle is exposed to cold water for an extended period of time. This exposure causes their heartrate to decrease, resulting in the turtle becoming lethargic and often unable to eat. Unfortunately, cold stunning events, where large numbers of sea turtles become stranded, are not unusual in Northern areas during the months of November through February as water temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

If you see a sea turtle in distress, injured, or deceased please report it to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission immediately at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). 

Follow the C.A.R.E. Center on Facebook to learn more about sea turtles and the center's rehabilitation efforts.  The C.A.R.E. Center and its patients can be visited as part of a general admission ticket to Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. 

The Gulfarium CARE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is proud to act as a beacon for coastal conservation through marine animal rescue and rehabilitation. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made online on the C.A.R.E. Center's webpage.

Turtle 473 heads back into the ocean after prolonged rehabilitation at the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center.