Cold-stunned turtles washing up on North Fork shores

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12/13/2010 4:03 PM |

BARBARA TERRANOVA PHOTO | A dead loggerhead sea turtle recently found on a sound-shore beach may have lingered in local waters too long and missed the opportunity to head south with the change of the seasons.

A dead loggerhead sea turtle recently found on a sound-shore beach may have lingered in local waters too long and missed the opportunity to head south with the change of the seasons.

If so, the animal isn’t alone.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation has brought in 30 “cold-stunned” turtles since the beginning of the fall. Of those, 10 have survived and are being kept in tanks at the facility’s base at the Atlantis Marine World Aquarium for release next summer.

All of the animals were found either along the Sound or out by Montauk, said Rob DiGiovanni, foundation director and senior biologist.

At 100 lbs, the loggerhead found near Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic on Friday is much larger than most of the turtles found on north shore beaches at this time of the year, said Mr. DiGiovanni. The animals now in the foundation’s tanks are Kemp’s Ridley or green turtles weighing no more than eight to 10 pounds.

“The animals we get in our waters now are juveniles,” Mr. DiGiovanni said. “They hatch in southern latitudes and spend much of their time in the mid-Atlantic feeding on floating sargassum seaweed. What we think happens is they come into New England and New York waters when they become bottom-feeders.

An endangered species, Kemp’s Ridleys are the smallest sea turtles, growing no more than two to three feet long.

During the summer water temperatures in the Sound can climb into the 70s. The foundation begins to receive reports of cold-stunned animals when the water temperature falls to about 50 degrees, said Mr. DiGiovanni. In mid-Sound the water is currently about 46 degrees.

The cold-stun season begins in earnest around Thanksgiving and runs through December. After that it’s usually too cold for the animals to survive.

Cold-stunned turtles will stop eating and go wherever the tide takes them. Since northerly winds are predominant at this time of the year, most of those animals come ashore on north-facing beaches.

The animals may appear dead, but once brought in the foundation will continue to treat them until their condition becomes clear.

Anyone who comes across a beached sea turtle should immediately call the foundation’s stranding hotline at 369-9829.

“Every stranding is different,” he said. “Make sure the animal is secure on the beach and shield it from the wind so it doesn’t get colder. There’s a chance the animal is still alive and might be able to be revived.

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  • Visit Atlantis Marine Acquarium in Riverhead to see what a wonderful organization they are. Atlantis provides space for the Riverhead Foundation’s work in rescuing marine life on the North and South Forks of Long Island.