This week’s dip in temperature caused five endangered sea turtles to become frozen to the point that they essentially became paralyzed before washing up on North Fork beaches — an annual phenomenon known as “cold-stunning.”
According to Rachel Bosworth of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, a cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was discovered late Wednesday by a passersby on Bailie’s Beach in Mattituck. One day later, four more affected sea turtles were located in the same area, between Bailies Beach and Duck Pond. Since October, Ms. Bosworth said, a total of 38 cold-stunned sea turtles have been taken to the foundation’s East Main Street facility.
“Cold-stunned season is typically October through January,” said Ms. Bosworth, who said the Riverhead Foundation received this season’s first turtle the day before Thanksgiving from a Southampton beach. Of the 38 found so far, 13 are still alive and being rehabilitated. Four of the five turtles found in Mattituck this week have already died.
Ms. Bosworth said sea turtles typically migrate to warmer waters in the fall but that they “stuck around longer” due to this year’s mild weather. But chillier temperatures earlier this week have caused the cold-blooded animals, which rely on external sources of warmth for survival, to become cold-stunned — rendering them unable to move and often close to death.
“They get deposited onto the beach as the tide comes in,” said Ms. Bosworth, who said the 2014-15 season netted a total of 35 cold-stunned sea turtles. “The best time to actually find these turtles is after high tide.”
Healthy sea turtles have an average body temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit and a heart rate between 25 and 35 beats per minute, Ms. Bosworth said. The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle found Wednesday in Mattituck had a body temperature of only 37 degrees Fahrenheit and a heart rate of just two beats per minute. This initially led the passerby who located the animal to think it was dead, Ms. Bosworth said.
If you spot a sea turtle on a local beach, Ms. Bosworth asks that you call the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation’s 24-hour hotline at 631-369-9829 right away. The animals should not be touched.
“We encourage people, whether they think a sea turtle is dead or alive, to call that number,” she said.
Photo: Biologist Daniella Ferrina of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation treating a cold-stunned sea turtle.