A cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle found on Chappaquiddick, one of hundreds of the critically endangered turtles that wash up each winter on the Cape and Islands, was recovering this week at the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy.

The prognosis was cautiously optimistic for the young turtle, now known as NEST-17-269-LK. On Tuesday aquarium staff said the turtle was active, alert, and breathing on its own, though still in the critical early stages of recovery.

The Vineyard turtle is part of what is now an annual cold-stunning period for sea turtles, which are found on beaches by the hundreds during the late fall and early winter, mostly along Cape Cod Bay. The cold-blooded animals depend on external sources for body heat and cannot warm themselves. When sea turtles are exposed to cold water — such as when they are too far north when water temperature starts to drop — they have a hypothermic reaction, with decreased heart rate and circulation, and are unable to forage.

The Vineyard turtle followed the path of many other turtles on a journey that includes help from volunteers, biologists and veterinarians. This trip included extra Vineyard touches, including ferry rides and a sleep-over in Island naturalist Gus Ben David’s reptile room.

Clinton Fisher, an Edgartown bay scalloper, found the turtle Monday on the beach inside Cape Pogue Pond. Mr. Fisher called Mr. Ben David, the go-to person on the Island when it comes to wildlife in need. He coordinates rescue for Island turtles with staff from Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which has been working with stranded turtles on the Cape for years.

On Monday afternoon the dark green turtle, about a foot long and not moving, was resting in a cardboard Amazon box in Mr. Ben David’s climate-controlled reptile room on the lower floor of his house. Three snapping turtles sat in the tank below, ready for hibernation, and several painted turtles swam in a pool nearby.

Mr. Ben David said anyone who finds a sea turtle, even it appears to be dead, should contact him immediately and not disturb the animal. Turtles must be warmed slowly and carefully by professionals. Too much handling stresses them out.

Kemp’s ridley recovers in Gus Ben David’s climate-controlled reptile room. — Timothy Johnson

“It happens,” Mr. Ben David said after looking in on the turtle Monday. “It’s nature.”

On Tuesday morning the turtle headed off-Island on the 8:15 a.m. ferry. Wellfleet Bay volunteers were in Woods Hole, ready to transport the turtle to the aquarium’s state-of-the-art animal care center, a former pipe-fitting plant at the Quincy shipyard. The new arrival was one of 260 or so live turtles that have arrived at the facility so far this year.

The facility is outfitted with tanks of various sizes and was designed to hold about 100 turtles, which was the average number of cold-stunned turtles for years, New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said this week. But since 2011, a “watershed year” for stranded animals, the number of stranded turtles has grown. Three years ago, he said, more than 700 live turtles arrived at the aquarium. Wellfleet Bay helped with 1,300 stranded turtles that year.

Three types of sea turtles strand around the Cape, Mr. LaCasse said: Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green turtles. The turtles spend winters in warmer waters in the south, and juvenile turtles come north to feed, mostly on crabs.

“It’s so cool to live on the Cape and Islands, to have these 1,500 pound sea turtles swimming by in the summertime,” Mr. LaCasse said.

Sea turtles should head south in September, along with migrating birds. But Mr. LaCasse said as ocean water gets warmer, turtles tend to venture further north — the Cape is around the northern end of their natural range. When the water turns cold suddenly, the turtles cannot adjust to the temperature and turn hypothermic. The Cape is a prime area for stranding, as turtles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay.

“We call it a season, what has happened,” said Jenette Kerr, communications coordinator at Wellfleet Bay. She said sustained strong winds this week meant prime stranding conditions.

Wellfleet Bay has been working with stranded turtles for 30 years, Ms. Kerr said, from turtles entangled in fishing gear in the summer to cold-stunned turtles in winter. The high numbers of stranded turtles over the last few years have been overwhelming at times, she said, straining resources up and down the East Coast.

Kemp’s ridley, the smallest and most endangered sea turtles, often strand early in the season and make up for 90 per cent of all strandings. The turtles grow to be about 75 pounds, though juveniles, like the one that washed up on the Vineyard, often weigh three to five pounds. The smaller turtles are more susceptible to cold-stunning because they have less surface area and lose more heat.

“We’re like an ER in a big city on Saturday night,” Mr. LaCasse said. “Do we have enough beds? In most cases we know we don’t.”

More than 100 turtles have been flown to Florida, North Carolina, and Baltimore this year to clear up space, he said. Six Kemp’s ridley turtles are under veterinary care at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, and dozens of others are at the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay. Others will soon be shipped to the Pittsburgh Zoo, Mr. LaCasse said.

Some years pose operational challenges, like when 100 loggerhead turtles stranded a few years ago. One loggerhead is the size of about 10 Kemp’s ridley turtles, and they don’t do well sharing space. “We had to have people there with a big long netting pole to referee,” Mr. LaCasse said

Cold-stunned turtles are found after weeks of inactivity and hypothermia, when they have not been able to dive for crabs. Often they are dehydrated. Some have additional medical needs: half the turtles have pneumonia, and others have fractures.

Shortly after arrival at the Aquarium rescue center Tuesday, the Vineyard Kemp’s ridley had a physical exam, a blood sample taken, and was evaluated by a veterinarian, according to Connie Merigo, head of the aquarium’s marine animal rescue team.

The turtles receive antibiotics or antifungal treatment if needed, Mr. LaCasse said. They also receive a sort of physical therapy, starting right when they come in, as they are stimulated in slightly warmer water. “They might look dead and all of a sudden they might do better,” he said. The Vineyard turtle went through a swim trial Tuesday.

The turtles are then kept out of the water and slowly rewarmed by about five degrees a day over five days. Most also receive fluids and sugars to fight dehydration, and they are moved through slightly warmer water for 15 minutes to an hour each day. Once their temperature is normal (about 70 degrees), they are moved to larger tanks with other turtles.

The average turtle that strands in November requires about three months of rehab, Mr. LaCasse said, before it is taken south for release in warmer water.

“In order to get flown out, you’ve got to be rewarmed and medically stable,” he said.

Turtles with major medical problems stay on at the aquarium’s facility, he said, and are often released on the Cape during the summer. Four summers ago, two Kemp’s ridley turtles named Frank Hardy and Benton Wesley were released at Long Point after recovering at the aquarium. (Turtles that are kept for long-term treatment often receive names.)

A handful of turtles are found on the Vineyard every year, said Karen Dourdeville, a member of the sea turtle team at Wellfleet Bay.

In November, one of the first loggerhead turtles found of the season washed up on Chappaquiddick. That turtle is still in rehabilitation at the Aquarium facility.

One of the roadblocks to recovery is finding turtles in the first place. “There are probably turtles washing up that might not be seen or people might assume are dead,” Mr. LaCasse said. Turtles found even through the first week of January are often still alive, he said. Turtles can survive even when their heartbeat slows to once per minute.

At Wellfleet Bay, some 200 volunteers walk the beach after high winds to look for turtles, no matter the hour. “If we think it’s going to be good stranding conditions and it’s 2 a.m., we go out there,” Ms. Kerr said.

Vineyarders too, should be on the lookout for turtles, officials said. Anyone that finds a turtle should contact Mr. Ben David at 508-627-5634. If he cannot be reached, call the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2614 extension 6104.

Ms. Merigo praised Mr. Ben David’s expert handling of the young Kemp’s ridley. “Whoever had this turtle overnight did a great job with temperature regulation,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kerr said that with efforts underway to protect sea turtle nests in the south, the Cape might be seeing part of an increase in population.

“All the turtles we deal with are youngsters, two to four years old,” she said.

“So if you save one of [the juveniles] and they survive to sexual maturity, you’re making a difference to the population.”