MERRY RETUS COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead Foundation scientists are researching what caused the death of a Loggerhead sea turtle that washed up in Orient Point on Tuesday.
Orient Point resident Merry Retus made a somber discovery Tuesday after noticing a turtle floating in Long Island Sound waters behind her home.
“It was very choppy out so I couldn’t tell if it was alive or not. I was just kind of keeping an eye on it,” she said.
A short time later, the turtle had made it to the shore off Sound View Road.
Ms. Retus said she called volunteers at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation to report the distressed turtle. Upon arrival marine officials found Loggerhead turtle, weighing more than 300 pounds, dead on the shore.
“It was the biggest they had ever seen,” she said.
“It was quite an ordeal getting him off the beach as there was no way to get a vehicle on the beach,” she said.
Ms. Retus said the turtle was about a half-mile from the nearest access.
With foundation members unable to move the turtle, Ms. Retus started calling anyone she could think of to try and help the researchers get the turtle back to the foundation.
“I called the town, the highway department, public works, the police and the bay constable, but everybody said the same thing,” she said. “They were unable to help.”
By Wednesday, volunteers from Douglass Marine Towing offered to tow the turtle from the beach so the foundation could research its cause of death, she said.
“He didn’t appear to have any injures from a boat or anything. I like to think it was old age,” Ms. Retus said. “Hopefully we can learn something from him.”
Coming across a distressed turtle is not that uncommon, Foundation officials have said in the past.
Because sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they depend on external sources of heat to stay warm. During the impending cold temperatures, they must migrate to warmer waters.
When turtles are unable to travel south, they can become what’s called “cold-stunned” or hypothermic, according to marine researchers.
According to the foundation, the 2012-2013 winter season brought and “unprecedented number” of turtles to the Northeast, with more than 100 turtles needing rehabilitation from Virginia to Maine.
During that season the foundation responded to 37 cold-stunned turtles, 6 had died while being cared for by the foundation, 13 had died on arrival to the foundation, and 2 were found dead on the beach, according to a foundation spokeswoman.
Researchers are hosting a new “Save the Seat Turtles” campaign to educate residents on what to do should they come across a distressed turtle.
They will be holding educational classes at a number of locations throughout Long Island, including the Long island Aquarium in Riverhead. For more information and a schedule of classes visit the foundation website.
Researchers with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation were not immediately available for comment.