OCEAN CITY – Though winter only officially started this week, cold-stunning season for sea turtles and marine mammals is already in full swing with 30 admitted already to the National Aquarium in Baltimore for rehabilitation.
Each winter, hundreds of sea turtles and other marina 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.
It’s not unusual and is just a fact of nature, but early this season the problem seems to be particularly acute. The National Aquarium Animal Rescue Team is already treating 30 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from beaches up and down the east coast, including 26 Kemp’s Ridley’s and four green sea turtles.
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 Island are popular release points because of their proximity to the National Aquarium.
Each year, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Team picks a theme for the cold-stunned patients they are treating and this year’s theme is musical instruments. The four green turtles the aquarium team is treating have been named for the horn and brass section including Tuba, Trombone, Trumpet and Coronet. The Kemp Ridley’s patients have names such as Triangle, Maraca, Kazoo and Viola, for example.
The majority of the rescued turtles are recovering from ailments commonly associated with cold-stunning including pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, infection and emaciation. As their rehabilitation continues, the Animal Health and Rescue teams are providing around-the-clock care to each of the turtles, all working toward the greater goal of returning the sea turtles back to their natural habitat. Some could be ready to be re-released as soon as February.
The National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue program is responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the nearly 3,190 miles of Maryland coast and works with stranding partners throughout the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Network to help respond, rescue and release animals year-round.
Local residents and visitors are urged to be on the lookout for cold-stunned sea turtles and marine mammals during winter walks along area beaches and report them so the creatures can be rescued and hopefully rehabilitated.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains the Maryland Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 800-628-9944 and anyone who comes across a sea turtle or marine mammal in distress is urged to avoid approaching them and to call the stranding hotline.
“We want to remind the public to report any signs of cold-stunned marine animals or sea turtles to the department,” said Maryland Natural Resources Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Program coordinator Amanda Weschler. “While cold-stunning is a natural occurrence, we can act to protect these animals and the public.”