They may appear as if they are dead, but Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, said many sea turtles spotted on the beach in the winter are actually suffering from profound cold stunning otherwise known as hypothermia.
Already this season, the foundation has rescued 22 stunned sea turtles from beaches in Hampton Bays, East Hampton, Mattituck and Baiting Hollow. That number is up from last winter when only nine turtles were reported suffering.
Most recently, the foundation rescued two endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were found on the incoming tide in Sag Harbor by beachwalkers.
"Each animal was initially found exhibiting profound cold stunning," Durham said. "Without proper intervention a cold stunned sea turtle will inevitably die."
Both turtles, weighing in at approximately 10 pounds each and measuring about 1 ½ feet in length, were taken to the foundation to be nursed back to health, Durham said.
Two other green turtles, found this week; however, perished. The foundation said those turtles, which were found on the Long Island Sound in Mattituck, were designated Class 4, which means they were unable to revive the turtle at the scene.
The foundation asks that if a turtle appears to be suffering from hypothermia that the siting be immediately reported to the foundation's hotline at 631-369-9829.
In addition, the foundation provided the following information regarding stunned turtles:
- Do not place the turtle in water.
- Do not attempt to warm the turtle. Rapid warming may cause irreversible damage to a cold-stunned reptile. Time is a factor in proper rehabilitation.
- Become a trained sea turtle beach patroller by attending one of the sea turtle cold stun lectures or by calling the Riverhead Foundation at 631-369-9840 and talking to one of the biologists.
- When you walk on the beach, search the entire beach from the dune line to the water line, check the water for floating turtles, look through the high tide line for turtles buried beneath the dried seaweed.
- You can patrol at any time, but the chances are greater for finding a turtle if you patrol after high tide, particularly after storms or extremely cold weather.
- If you have to leave the area before the rescue team arrives, clearly mark the location of the turtle so that it can be quickly located.