NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A group of 30 endangered sea turtles are being treated for hypothermia and pneumonia in Louisiana after a sudden cold spell nearly froze them in New England waters, caretakers say.
The Audubon Nature Institute’s Coastal Wildlife Network announced this week that it took in the reptiles at a New Orleans rehabilitation facility after they were brought on a rough ride from Massachusetts.
The rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, considered among the world’s most endangered sea turtles, were swimming off the Massachusetts coast before Thanksgiving when the cold snap and high winds sickened hundreds of them in what experts called a “massive cold-stunning event,” according to the organization.
Nearly killed by falling ocean temperatures, many of the turtles have since been moved to wildlife centers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
“When these cold snaps happen, the turtles can go into shock,” The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate quoted Gabriella Harlamert, a rehabilitation coordinator, as saying. “Their organs shut down one by one.”
She added that all of the turtles bound for New Orleans were in critical condition before being loaded onto a plane and then a van for their journey from New England. They have since been receiving around-the-clock care.
Many of the turtles were swimming in a tank as of Wednesday and nine others were showing promising signs, rescuers said. Three remained in what Harlamert described as “super critical condition.”
The turtles washed up near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, last month after having been held up from migrating to warmer waters before temperatures dropped, the Audubon Nature Institute said in a statement.
Most of the turtles could be released into the Gulf of Mexico this winter following rehabilitation, though the ones in need of more care may not be released until March, experts said.
Kemp’s ridley turtles are the smallest sea turtles in the world, growing to a little over 2 feet (.6 meters). They are found in the Atlantic as far north as Nova Scotia but are seen most often in the Gulf of Mexico.