OCEAN CITY — Three more rehabilitated sea turtles last week were released by boat off the coast of Ocean City, adding to the National Aquarium’s growing class of 2020.
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, National Aquarium staffers, with the cooperation of the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) marine unit, released three more sea turtles off the coast of Ocean City.
The two Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and the one green sea turtle were rescued last winter after cold-stunning on area beaches. In June, National Aquarium staffers released 10 rehabilitated sea turtles from the beach at Assateague State Park. One of those sea turtles, affectionately known as Muenster, in keeping with the aquarium’s cheese theme for this year’s class of rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles, became the 300th rehabilitated and released creature in the program’s nearly 20-year history.
Last week, Mozzarella, Stilton and Halloumi were released off the Ocean City coast. The three turtles came to the National Aquarium last winter and were treated for ailments typically associated with con-stunning including pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, infection and emaciation. 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 their proximity to the National Aquarium.
Mozzarella and Stilton, both Kemp’s Ridley’s, both stranded off the Massachusetts coast last December. As they moved closer to release, both turtles were fed a steady diet of live crabs to ensure they maintained the ability to forage and capture live prey when they were returned to the sea. Halloumi stranded off the coast of North Carolina before ending up in the National Aquarium’s rehab program.
As the aquarium’s team bid farewell to Mozzarella, Stilton and Halloumi last week, they began actively preparing for the next cold-stun season, which typically begins in the fall when ocean water temperatures start to drop. The National Aquarium has the capacity to admit and care for over 30 cold-stunned turtles for long-term rehabilitation and eventual release and they often arrive for rehab simultaneously.
Sea turtles are naturally present off the mid-Atlantic coast from May through October and it is not unusual for them to strand on area beaches because of illness or injury. In the past week alone, the National Aquarium admitted two more Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles for long-term rehabilitation. Pecorino suffered a presumed boat strike, while Tulum is a more mature turtle who was suffering from lethargy and positive buoyancy. Both were rescued off the coast of Delaware.