The Florida Aquarium Takes in Cold Stunned Turtles

Recently, The Florida Aquarium met a volunteer pilot at Tampa International Airport to receive eight Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that suffered through a harsh cold-stunning event in the Northeast that began in early November.

The term “cold-stunning” refers to the hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to prolonged cold water temperatures. Sea turtles cannot regulate their body temperatures, and as a result of an abrupt temperature change, they can quickly become hypothermic, unable to move and can wash ashore. Initial symptoms include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possible death.

“The preferred body temperature of a sea turtle is 75F, and these turtles are being exposed to temperatures in the 40s. Without prompt intervention and medical care, it is likely that many would ultimately succumb to death” said Dr. Kathy Heym, Director of Animal Health at The Florida Aquarium.

Since November, over 350 sea turtles have been rescued by rehabilitation facilities in the Northeast due to this cold-stunning event, and eight of those turtles will receive critical rehabilitation care at The Florida Aquarium. The rest of the turtles went to other rescue and rehab organizations.

“Days like today are both sad but also heartwarming,” said Dr. Ari Fustukjian, The Florida Aquarium’s Associate Veterinarian. “Today we are given a chance to help our partners in the Northeast and rehab these eight turtles that are in need of continued medical care. We will take an initial health assessment of each turtle and then tailor their health care regimen based on their individual needs, including typical supportive care such as warmer water and a balanced diet.

The Florida Aquarium’s sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts are part of The Florida Aquarium Center for Conservation. The Florida Aquarium is one of only a few rehabilitation facilities authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to treat sick or injured endangered sea turtles.

With an emphasis on critical care and release back into natural habitats, The Florida Aquarium’s full-time veterinary program and medical staff assist with sea turtle rehabilitation not only in Tampa, but nationwide. They do everything they can to ensure the survival and ongoing livelihood of these amazing creatures.

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