ASSATEAGUE — Ten rescued sea turtles last week were released back into the ocean at Assateague State Park, one of which became the 300th sea creatures rehabilitated and released by the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program.
Since 1991, the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program has been rehabilitating injured or ill sea creatures including seals and sea turtles at the facility in Baltimore and re-releasing them when they are ready to return to the wild. Last week the Class of 2020, which included 10 sea turtles, returned safely to the sea from the beach at Assateague State Park.
National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program staffers transported the 10 rehabbed sea turtles to the state park and one-by-one carried them to the water’s edge and let them swim back into their natural habitat. An endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, weighed more than 14 pounds, affectionately known as Muenster in keeping with this year’s theme of naming rehabbed sea creatures after various cheeses, was given the honor of being the 300th rehabilitated and released creature in the programs nearly 20-year history.
Muenster, along with other Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles Asiago, Brie and Mascarpone, were transferred to the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program from the New England Aquarium after stranding as cold-stunned turtles along the Massachusetts coast. Those turtles had been rehabbing at the National Aquarium since last November before being released from Assateague State Park last week.
Six green sea turtles, nicknamed Chechil, Cotija, Fontina, Pimento, Monterrey Jack and Roquefort, were also released from Assateague last week. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford took part in the release ceremony. Those six turtles were transferred to the National Aquarium from North Carolina in January. All of the turtles released last week were treated at the Animal Rescue Program for ailments commonly associated with cold-stunning including pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, infection and emaciation.
“With the help of many volunteers and partners including Assateague State Park, the Town of Ocean City and the Department of Natural Resources, we have been able to rehabilitate and release more than 300 animals which is a true milestone,” said Jennifer Dittmar, director of animal rescue at the National Aquarium. “This work allows critically endangered species like the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles to have a fighting chance and also helps to educate the public on how we can be better stewards of the environment around us.”
Each winter, hundreds of sea turtles and other marine mammals suffer from cold-stunning when they hit patches of extremely cold water during their typical migration patterns to warmer climates. The cold water literally stuns the creatures to the point their bodies start to shut down.
Unable to swim and navigate, the disabled sea turtles are at the whims of the tides and strand on area beaches. Each year, hundreds of sea turtles and other marina animals strand on the beaches up and down the mid-Atlantic region and end up at the National Aquarium and other similar rehabilitation facilities.
In many cases, the cold-stunned creatures are successfully rehabilitated and later released back into the wild, but in other cases, the effects can be lethal. Once rehabilitated, the cold-stunned turtles and other creatures are often re-released into the sea and Ocean City and Assateague are popular release points because of its proximity to the National Aquarium.