N.C. Aquarium taking care of dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles

By on January 29, 2019

STAR Center Technician Alex Jeddry prepares a green sea turtle for a veterinarian exam

Sea turtles stranded by cold-stunning on the Outer Banks are being treated by technicians and volunteers at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island’s Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center.

Since Jan. 1, colder weather has resulted in an increase in turtles being found washed ashore from Hatteras to Ocracoke.

As of Jan. 23, 37 turtles were being treated in the STAR Center: 20 green sea turtles, 13 Kemp’s ridley and four loggerheads.

Cold-stunning happens when water temperatures drop rapidly before sea turtles have a chance to make their way back to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. Turtles affected by cold-stunning experience hypothermia-like symptoms and are often found stranded on beaches and in sound-side marshes.

Each winter results in the arrival of some cold-stunned turtles, but the number of turtles recovered and in need of treatment varies.

With the cooperation of partners like the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T), the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service and other agencies, the STAR Center works to release as many of these turtles back to the ocean as possible.

“The sea turtles in our care right now look good,” says STAR Center Manager Amber White. “Many are swimming well and responding to treatment. We think the chances are good that they will be able to be released.”

Turtles transported to the STAR Center go through an initial intake that measures their vital signs, examines blood, and checks for any additional injuries or illness.

From there, the turtles will be slowly warmed back up. They are monitored closely and when they are swimming and eating normally, a final check by the NC Aquarium’s veterinarian staff will clear them for release.

Anyone who finds a stranded sea turtle should call N.E.S.T. at (252) 441-8622. N.E.S.T. volunteers have specialized training to recover and transport sick or injured turtles.

The STAR Center continues year-round rehabilitation of sea turtles rescued from various scenarios, from boat strikes to pneumonia, but cold-stun events use extra resources and supplies.

In response to the public’s desire to contribute to cold-stun rehabilitation, the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island has set up an Amazon Wish List online at a.co/enEPLsr where users can purchase medical supplies directly for turtles in the STAR Center.

The N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is dedicated to the mission of “Inspiring appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments.”

The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Additional information can be found at ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island.

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