Twenty-six sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod released into ocean along Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Published 9:14 am Sunday, May 1, 2022

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After months of rehabilitative care, the New England Aquarium and several partner organizations released dozens of rescued sea turtles into the ocean waters off North Carolina on Monday.

Rescue biologists looked on as the turtles crawled from the beach along Cape Hatteras National Seashore back into their ocean home. A total of 26 turtles were released: 10 Kemp’s ridley turtles from the New England Aquarium, one loggerhead and four Kemp’s ridleys from Mystic Aquarium, five Kemp’s ridleys from Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and six from New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC).

Staff and volunteers from Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescued the turtles from Cape Cod beaches during the annual cold-stunning event, which began in November 2021 and went into January 2022. Most of the turtles were triaged at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital and spent months at the rehabilitative facilities, receiving treatment for conditions including pneumonia and dehydration, before being medically cleared to return to the ocean. The waters off of North Carolina are warm enough in the springtime for the turtles to survive, so the New England Aquarium organized a ground transport, picking up turtles from Mystic Aquarium and meeting up with AMCS and NYMRC colleagues along the way to caravan south.

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“It is a great feeling to actually be able to travel with and release these turtles along with our fellow network members and the National Park Service staff and volunteers. It’s something we have greatly missed for the past couple of years amid pandemic restrictions,” said the New England Aquarium’s manager of rescue and rehabilitation Adam Kennedy.

During the ground transport, the vehicle temperature is set for what the water will be at the release location and monitored throughout the trip. The turtles make the journey in banana boxes – being able to safely spend extended periods of time out of the water – and receive fluids to better prepare them for a return to the ocean.

Among the turtles released by the New England Aquarium was a Kemp’s ridley that underwent surgery to remove an ingested balloon ribbon that extended from outside its beak, through its digestive tract and out its cloaca, or posterior opening. Aquarium staff originally intended to release the turtle, named “Star Anise” by staff, this summer off of Cape Cod, but the turtle recovered more quickly than anticipated and was able to join the North Carolina transport. Other turtles released by the aquarium include “Bay Leaf,” “Sage” and “Chicory” – in keeping with this year’s naming theme of spices.

“Releasing these turtles is the ultimate goal. Every turtle that comes through our Sea Turtle Hospital doors, being carried in banana boxes, we want to send back to the ocean, healthy and crawling home under their own power,” Kennedy said.

This past cold-stunning season saw more than 500 live sea turtles strand on Cape Cod beaches. Depending on the severity of their illness, hospitalized turtles can require weeks or months of treatment. The remaining turtles in New England Aquarium care will be released off Cape Cod in the summer months, once the waters have warmed.