The story of the rescue of a lucky sea turtle, among the first of an endangered species to wash up on the shores of Cape Cod Bay this year

His little fins were spread out on the sand and he didn’t move. Catherine believed him dead, like so many horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach. Ozzie wasn’t so sure, and he leaned down, bringing his head closer to the turtle’s.

Ozzie Abel this month found an endangered Kemp Ridley Turtle near Thumpertown Beach in Eastham. He named her “Cute”.David Abel

“I saw his eye move! He cried, dazed with excitement.

Catherine texted me a photo, and when we spoke a few minutes later, I suggested she call a local hotline for stranded animals. About 10 minutes later, Jessica Ciarcia, a biologist with the Rescue Team Wildlife reserve near Mass Audubon in Wellfleet, arrived with an empty box of bananas.

It was one of the first cold-knocked Kemp’s ridley turtles to be found in Cape Town this fall. It was unusual for the first to arrive so late; typically more sea turtles would have washed up on shore at this time of year, and ironically the lack of stranded turtles was a potentially worrying sign – climate change likely being the culprit – for the Critical danger species.

As Cape Cod Bay and surrounding waters have warmed at an accelerating rate in recent years, increasing numbers of sea turtles, especially juveniles such as the one Ozzie and Catherine found, feeds longer in the area and becomes more susceptible to sudden drops in temperature. Fewer stranded turtles likely mean more turtles are trapped inside the bay’s hook, where a wave of cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, compromise their ability to swim, and ultimately prove fatal to cold-blooded reptiles.

Turtles arrive at Cape Cod Bay via the Gulf Stream from the Gulf of Mexico via what scientists call a “hot water bridge,” which has lasted longer in recent years and has brought more turtles to the region. as the water temperature increased. Between 2005 and 2010, for example, the Sea Turtle Hospital at the New England Aquarium admitted an average of 86 small reptiles per year collected around Cape Cod Bay. Between 2015 and 2020, they admitted an average of 427.

“We quickly passed our space,” said Adam Kennedy, who oversees Sea Turtle Hospital, noting that Quincy’s facility was designed to treat no more than 60 reptiles at a time.

Two years ago, in a study published in the journal Plos One, scientists estimated that prolonged warm fall water temperatures would cause more than 2,300 Kemp’s Ridley Turtles to be cold-stunned each year in Cape Cod Bay by 2030, further putting the species at risk. danger. Scientists estimate that there are only around 8,000 nesting females left today, as their population has been wiped out by the people who hunted them and took their eggs.

“This is particularly alarming, given that the Gulf of Maine is expected to continue to warm at a rapid rate over the next several decades,” the scientists wrote in the journal.

Their predictions were certainly correct this year, as temperatures in Massachusetts Bay held steady. records during most of the fall, reaching over 64 degrees in early September, nearly 12 degrees higher than the average temperatures of the past two decades.

“Hot water like the one we’ve had this year keeps them in the bay longer,” said Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at New Jersey-based advocacy group Climate Central, whose research focused on warming in the Gulf of Maine. “The longer they stay, the more likely they are to encounter cold, New England weather, and turtles really don’t like the cold. Basically, hot water increases the risk of sea turtles being cold-blown. “

And it seems to have started happening last week, when Ozzie discovered one of the first three Kemp’s ridley turtles to wash up on the beaches of the Outer Cape – later than ever, scientists said. Since then, more than 150 others have been found, of which at least 22 have not survived.

Jessica Ciarcia, biologist with the nearby Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Rescue Team in Wellfleet, rescued a Kemp's ridley turtle found this month in Eastham by Ozzie Abel.
Jessica Ciarcia, a biologist with the nearby Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary Rescue Team in Wellfleet, rescued a Kemp’s ridley turtle found this month in Eastham by Ozzie Abel.David Abel

Moments after Mass Audubon got the call from Catherine, Ciarcia hopped into a specially equipped Toyota Prius and rushed to Thumpertown beach, near where Ozzie and Catherine discovered the young turtle. they had followed a colleague’s instructions to keep him as far out of the water as possible, cover him with seagrass to keep him warm, and draw a large circle around him in the sand. After thanking them, Ciarcia gently loaded the turtle into the banana box and carried it to her car, keeping its temperature at 55 degrees, so as not to heat the turtle too quickly.

About half an hour later, a volunteer took the turtle, and two others found that day to the sea turtle hospital. There, staff discovered that the turtle’s heart rate was only four beats per minute (a healthy sea turtle’s heart beats at 30-40 beats per minute) and that she was suffering from pneumonia. .

Staff scribbled a number on the shell of the 2.4-pound turtle, indicating that it was the 111th sea turtle they had rescued in the past year. Then they gave him medicine, fed him, and put him in one of their heated swimming pools.

A few days later, Ozzie was invited to the hospital for a reunion with the turtle, who appeared to be recovering quite well and seemed excited to see his rescuer again. The turtle, whose gender will not be known for a few years, swam with pep on the surface of the pool, returning several times to Ozzie, who waved at him and had to be told a few times not to. caress.

Ozzie quickly named the turtle “Cutie”.

“He looks a lot more handsome than before,” he said. “Her fins were really tired and bent on the beach, but now they look perfect.”

If all goes well for Cutie, he will eat squid and herring in the hospital over the next few months, play well with the other turtles, and be transferred next spring to a rehabilitation center in North Carolina or North Carolina. South. Then the turtle will be released back into the wild.

Before Ozzie left the hospital, Kennedy made it clear how lucky the Turtle had been.

“If you hadn’t found it,” he said, “the turtle probably wouldn’t have. He would probably have died that night.

David Abel can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @davabel.

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