Sea turtles strand themselves along Outer Banks
MANTEO — Volunteers are scrambling to save endangered sea turtles that are stranded off the Outer Banks — the victims of storms and cold.
The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., reported Wednesday that about 45 turtles have been taken to the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles rehabilitation center at the North Carolina Aquarium near Manteo.
Christian Guerreri of the aquarium says that's a record number of cold-stunned turtles for the Outer Banks. Last winter, 28 were found off barrier island beaches.
Guerreri says four turtles have died, and nine have been sent to other rehabilitation facilities.
Leaning over a small box on the floor, Guerreri pulled a towel off a small green turtle that arrived Tuesday morning. The animal lay in its warm new bed, aware but seemingly unperturbed by the attention.
“Sometimes they're so lethargic, they won't lift their head to breathe,” she said.
Eventually, the turtle will be placed in fresh water bath for a day to kill off parasites, and then into a separate salt water tank, where it will be fed every morning. Recovery usually takes two to four weeks.
When they're well enough, the turtles will be released in the Gulf Stream.
The care of so many animals has made a dent in the network's funds, putting care of future strandings at risk, said treasurer Chris Pruitt. The volunteer group depends on donations.
Michelle Bogardus, lead sea turtle biotechnician for the National Park Service, said turtles lose consciousness in water that is too cold for them; 80 of the animals found since the weather turned on Dec. 12 were already dead when they were spotted. The live ones that are brought to a rehabilitation center within 24 hours have a good chance of survival, she said.
Most of the strandings involve green sea turtles, with some Kemp's ridleys and a few loggerheads, Bogardus said, and 90 percent have been found around the Pamlico Sound.