ASSATEAGUE — A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, rescued last fall in New Jersey after falling victim to the annual “cold-stunned” phenomena, was released from the beach at Assateague State Park last Saturday morning.
Throughout the late fall and winter, hundreds of sea turtles were discovered and rescued from beaches up and down the mid-Atlantic region including some in Ocean City and Assateague, for example. The stranded turtles were suffering from hypothermia and a phenomenon known as cold-stunning. Sea turtles often hit patches of extremely cold water in their typical migration patterns to warmer climates and the cold water literally stuns them to the point their bodies start to shut down and they wash up on the beaches.
In many cases, the cold-stunned turtles are rescued by marine animal rescue programs, such as MARP maintained by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which monitors the beaches including Ocean City and Assateague. The rescued turtles are taken to rehabilitation centers up and down the coast where they are nursed back to health to the point they can be re-released.
Last Saturday, the latest sea turtle to be rehabilitated, ironically named Iceman, was released from the beach in the Day Use area at Assateague State Park. Curious onlookers watched closely as National Aquarium staffers unloaded Iceman from a vehicle and carried the Kemp’s Ridley to the water’s edge. Iceman then waddled into the water and swam off. In many cases, rehabilitated sea turtles that are re-released are fitted with a satellite transmitter that allows the agencies to track their movements, especially the larger species like loggerheads, but Iceman was not fitted with a tracking device.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Network found Iceman on the beach and stunned by the cold in New Jersey last Nov. 13. Iceman was later transported to Baltimore for long-term care with the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue division. While in rehabilitation, Iceman was treated for various secondary complications from cold-stunning including severe shell lesions. Iceman recently cleared all veterinary tests and was deemed ready to return back to his natural environment.
It was at the National Aquarium where Iceman picked up his new moniker. Each year, the aquarium staffers pick a theme to name their rehabilitating sea turtles and this year’s theme was the movie “Top Gun.” Among the turtles rehabbed and released already this year were Maverick, Chipper, Charlie, Tombstone and now Iceman.
In June, four cold-stunned and rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtles were released from the beach at Assateague State Park. Those turtles had been rescued on the Cape Cod area and were rehabilitated at the New England Aquarium, but were released from Assateague after being transferred to a Virginia facility so they could be acclimated to warmer water temperatures.