Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) – A year after dozens of sea turtles washed up stranded and cold-stunned all along the East Coast, marine stranding officials are keeping a close eye on the shores.
NOAA reports that as of November 11, 6 sea turtles, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley, had washed up cold-stunned in New England.
However, here in Virginia, turtles might benefit from better conditions this year.
When water temperatures drop in the winter, sea turtles have to head south in order to survive, or else they run the risk of becoming cold-stunned.
“When the water temperature becomes cooler, the turtles actually stop functioning because they are cold blooded animals, so if they don`t leave the area in time, they become almost comatose,” says Susan Barco, a Stranding Response Research Coordinator at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.
Every year, several cold-stunned turtles are rescued in Virginia. Last year though there were many more rescued up and down the East Coast.
“We accepted turtles from Massachusetts before our cold stunned event happened last year. Not only did we have 7 or 8 turtles from the North, but then we had 7 or 8 turtles from our own waters,” Barco said.
Last December, NewsChannel 3 exclusively embedded with the Coast Guard in a rescue mission to fly dozens of cold stunned turtles from Cape Cod to Orlando.
This year, the hope is a more steady cool-off will help reduce the number of cold-stunned turtles.
“We are hoping that we had kind of a steady cooling off this fall enough to get the turtles – for them to get the signal to leave,” says Barco.
Barco says many of the tagged turtles – both research and rescue – have already headed south and the hope is non-tagged turtles has followed suit.
Many times a cold-stunned sea turtle will appear dead when they wash up on shore due to their comatose state.
That’s why the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Stranding Response Team urges anyone who spots a turtle on the beach to call their 24-hour staffed hotline at 757-385-7575.