With the help of two ferries and some human rescuers, a cold-stunned sea turtle made its way from a Chappaquiddick beach to the New England Aquarium Monday.
Skip Bettencourt found the green sea turtle Monday while looking for scallops on Chappaquiddick’s North Neck. He contacted the Boston aquarium and then Suzan Bellincampi, the director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, who is a member of the marine mammal rescue team on the Vineyard, was contacted to go over to Chappy.
The turtle, gender unknown, was alive but cold stunned. Mr. Bettencourt said it was unresponsive but had some movement in its flippers.
Green sea turtles come to New England in the summer to feed and head south as the waters get colder. But they often get stuck in a northwest wind, Ms. Bellincampi said, which causes them to get pushed back to the colder waters. The inside shores of Cape Cod and Chappaquiddick are places where turtles often get stuck.
Because turtles cannot regulate their body temperatures, the quick drop in water temperature leaves the turtles cold stunned. The turtles can’t move and then “just float and end up on a beach,” Ms. Bellincampi said.
Marine mammal rescue protocol calls for getting the turtles to the New England Aquarium as quickly as possible. “A quick response is important,” Ms. Bellincampi said. This turtle’s journey included a short trip on the Chappaquiddick Ferry and then a trip to the mainland on a Steamship Authority ferry. Someone from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary picked it up on the other side. Ms. Bellincampi said she hasn’t yet heard an update on the turtle’s condition.
The New England Aquarium rehabilitates the turtles, slowly reviving them and giving them medical treatment as needed. Last summer, four sea turtles that washed up cold stunned on the Cape were released back to the ocean from Long Point Beach.
Ms. Bellincampi said turtle strandings seem to be on the rise over the last couple of years, though this is the first this year on the Vineyard.
On the Cape, however, it’s been a busy season for turtle strandings. The Wellfleet sanctuary reports 94 turtles have been stranded since the first week in November, Ms. Bellincampi said, which is about 20 more than the number stranded last year at this time.
Those that find a turtle washed ashore should not put it back in the water, Ms. Bellincampi said. “It can’t swim. It has no ability to move its body.”
The turtles also should not be brought inside, because if they are warmed up too quickly they will go into shock.
Instead, those that find turtles should place them above the high tide line and cover them in a little bit of seaweed for protection. Then it’s time to call in the professionals: Felix Neck Sanctuary at 508-627-4850 or Wellfleet Sanctuary at 508-349-2615.
Because the turtles are a protected species, Ms. Bellincampi added, they should not be handled too much.
It can be hard to tell if a turtle is alive or dead. “We’re also interested in turtles not living,” Ms. Bellincampi said, for research and assessment. “It just makes sense to give us a phone call.”