The Marine Animal Rescue Program team has been very active with sea turtle rescues this year, and their work is not finished just yet. In late October a new green sea turtle patient was submitted to the MARP hospital. The turtle was found cold stunned in New Jersey and transported to the National Aquarium for rehabilitation.
“Cold stunning” occurs when sea turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures. Initial symptoms can include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death. Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that depend on external sources of heat to determine their body temperature. In cold water they do not have the ability to warm themselves, and must instead migrate to warmer waters.
Sea turtles are commonly found in waters off the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast U.S. during the summer and early fall. They typically begin to migrate south by late October. It is thought that animals foraging in shallow bays and inlets become susceptible to cold stunning because the temperatures in these areas can drop quite rapidly and unexpectedly.
Ideal body temperature for sea turtles is 80 F but upon arrival to the Aquarium the animal’s body temperature was just 72 F. After an initial examination the turtle was admitted to a pool with a water temperature of 73 F. The temperature was slowly increased to the ideal 78-80 range over the span of a few days.
Our veterinarians believe the turtle is about 2-3 years of age. Its current weight is just 6 pounds, which is fairly consistent for a turtle of that age class. The turtle is adjusting well to the water temperature and has been chowing down on brussel sprouts, romaine lettuce, and dandelion greens! The MARP team expects to release the turtle back into warmer waters in the few months.