Endangered sea turtles are continuing to show up stranded on beaches on Cape Cod, but the real activity is happening in the New England Aquarium’s rescue center.
It may be the last thing you’d expect to find inside an old, brick industrial building in a shipyard in Quincy: a giant pen of penguins. Huge tanks of rays, sharks and glittering fish. And now, pool after pool of sea turtles, along with a hospital-style clinic to treat them.
“This is a good example of one of the sickest turtles we have and kind of the typical cold stun stuff that we deal with," says Charles Innis, the head veterinarian for the New England Aquarium. He and his assistant are examining a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Its shell is about the size of a dinner plate, almost black with a white, serrated edge.
“We can see how lethargic he is…his prognosis is kind of questionable," Innis says.
Innis and his team have treated more than 150 turtles, and with the help of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, more keep coming. It’s already triple the number they saw last year, according to aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse.
“These are sea turtles that strand on Cape Cod every fall in November and December due to hypothermia. And the numbers of those turtles have actually been increasing. We’re not completely clear why. One of the guesses is that absolute sea turtle numbers are hopefully increasing," LaCasse says.
The turtles’ ultimate destination is the Gulf of Mexico, where they spend the winter. But they could spend up to 2 months warming up and recovering here, where they are fed antibiotics, fluids and eventually solid food like squid and seagrass. Their shells are cleaned of infections and fungal growths.
“Then we fly them to Georgia or Florida in January or February for release there. If the turtle is ready in May or June, we’ll go to Virginia or maybe to Chesapeake Bay area," LaCasse says.
Some will even go right back into the water they came from, off Cape Cod. And even though more than 50 turtles have been found dead on the beaches, the vast majority of rescues will survive and recover. Turtle recovery efforts are paid for largely through private donations to the New England Aquarium, but also from aquarium admission fees and federal grants, LaCasse says. More help is always welcome, especially this year.