Sea Turtles Fight Fickle New England Weather

cold stunned
Photo: NOAA

It’s early November and we’re already finding ourselves warming the cars, scraping the windshield, and dodging the ice cold rain. As you contemplate your move south for the 30 second journey from your car to the front door, keep in mind those (sea turtles) that contemplated the same move. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, they remain here in the chilly waters of New England.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles which means they rely on the surrounding environment to determine their body temperature. As the water temperature drops, most sea turtles migrate south. Those that remain in the temperate coastal waters risk being cold stunned. “Cold stunning” is a hypothermic reaction to prolonged exposure to cold waters.

Symptoms include decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, and lethargy. These are generally followed by shock and pneumonia. If the affected turtles are not treated, cold stunning can lead to death.

Once rescued, cold stunned sea turtles need to be brought back to health slowly and carefully. Problems can worsen if their body temperatures are raised too quickly. Normal rehabilitation for New England cold stunned turtles takes approximately 4 to 6 months.  The time varies depending on the severity of the sea turtle’s condition.

For information about what to do if you come across a cold stunned sea turtle, click here.