U.S. Coast Guard Airlifts Endangered Turtles

As many of you know, yesterday was a BIG day for us. After a few months of record sea turtle strandings in Massachusetts and countless hours caring for these animals, we were rescued yesterday by the United States Coast Guard. After a special request for help, the U.S. Coast Guard agreed to help in this unprecedented stranding event. [Learn about this special event from the Coast Guard's perspective! Here's their media release about the airlift, complete with pictures.]

Below is a photo of the U.S. Coast Guard aircraft that came to our rescue. This plane is a Mobile, Alabama-based Coast Guard HC-144A Ocean Sentry.

I'll back up a bit and start from the beginning of our day. Preparing animals for a transport is a lot of work. Preparing 20 animals for transport takes a well-oiled team working quickly and efficiently as possible to reduce stress on the animals. You'll notice from the various logos in the blog that we are still getting help from our colleagues in the stranding network. I'll Identify them as I take you though our day yesterday.

We started at about 6:30am getting our treatment stations set up, removing animals from the water and beginning pre-transport treatments. In the photo on the left U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell films some of the morning transport preparation activities as Julika, a Biologist from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, examines a turtle prior to transport. In the photo on right a volunteer holds a sea turtle for treatment by NEAq staff biologist Jen Kiesling.

Prior to loading the turtles in our ambulance (donated by the Fallon Ambulance company some years ago and still going!) each turtle receives an application of a moisturizing lubricant. In the photo below Emily (NEAq staff) and Skip Graf, a biologist from the stranding department at the Mystic Aquarium "lube" the turtles.

After pre-transport treatments are completed and each animal had been moisturized, they were carefully loaded into our warm ambulance. Two volunteers rode in the back of the ambulance to monitor the animals and to make sure it stayed warm enough throughout the ride.

Once the turtles were loaded into the ambulance, we began the trip to Hanscom Air Force Base where we met the U. S. Coast Guard flight crew. The flight crew, a Mobile, Alabama-based crew, literally swooped in to help us with this stranding event involving so many endangered sea turtles. Before we met the flight crew we were greeted and welcomed to Hanscom AFB by Colonel Stacy Yike, the base commander. OMG what a treat for us to meet her! Colonel Yike came out to great us in person and make sure our transport was running smoothly.

In the photo below Colonel Yike (left) and U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell chat with us as we wait for the flight crew to complete aircraft preparations.

The flight crew also came into the terminal to meet with us before we started moving turtles. These officers were the nicest and most professional people you could meet. From left to right: Petty Officer Perusin, Lt. Brownlee, Commander Nash, and Petty Officer Anderson.

After a briefing and a discussion on logistics we took PO Anderson and PO Perusin to the ambulance so they could look at the boxes to determine best placement on the air craft. In the photo below PO Anderson chats with Jen about the boxes and air temperatures for the journey.

Commander Nash, our pilot for this transport, was kind enough to give the media some of his time prior to take off.

The media were on hand in force for this event. The idea that our Coast Guard was willing and able to assist in this crisis event involving so many endangered species was clearly the story of the day. Below are a few photos of select media documenting the event.

There were more media outlets than the three pictured below but I had switched to my zoom lens and couldn't fit them all in the photo.

There was lots of cheering by all when we got word that the flight crew was ready to load the turtles on the aircraft.

The wind and driving rain yesterday didn't dampen anyone's spirits, we received a lot of help loading the turtles, which made it go quickly. In the photo below on the right, you can see the turtle line forming. In the photo on the left Colonel Yike (foreground) and PO Anderson load turtles.

In the photo below Commander Nash receives a turtle from PO Anderson. This was an all out effort to load the turtles quickly and get them out of the cold weather.

The photo on the right shows PO Perusin securing the turtle boxes for the flight. The photo on the left shows the turtle boxes secured in place and ready for liftoff.

This is one of my favorite photos of the day, it captures how we all felt about our efforts on this long but rewarding day. Working as a team with the U. S. Coast Guard and the fantastic staff at Hanscom AFB, we truly enjoyed ourselves. This was a team effort to save these critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles.

I took this photo of PO Anderson and PO Perusin just before I exited the aircraft. With the turtles safe, warm and secured, the flight crew was enthusiastic about the flight ahead with their precious cargo!

The photo below is my other favorite of the day. I looked up just in time to catch these two U.S. Coast Guard members high five each other - I love this shot more then I can express because it captures a different type of communication between these two colleagues. Just prior to this photo, Petty Officer Terrell (in the blue uniform) saluted Petty Officer Anderson. With the official greeting completed they then" high fived" with big smiles for each other - how great are these dedicated people!

In the photo below on the left the flight crew works to secure the aircraft prior to lift off. The photo on the right shows the aircraft lifting off on their way to Florida.

I hope these photos and my captions have captured what a truly amazing day this was for all of us. There were also many people behind the scenes that helped make this day a possibility including officials from the U. S. Coast Guard, the National Marine Fisheries Services and SeaWorld of Orlando, where the animals were taken for further rehabilitation and subsequent release. I did hear from the staff at SeaWorld last night, when they called to let me know that the animals arrived safely and were heading into their new tanks. I'll do my best to work with the SeaWorld team to bring you updates in these animals.

A special thanks to the United States Coast Guard, and in particular this flight crew, for helping us during this endangered species crisis.

- Connie


  1. I have to say I am very proud of everyone involved in this effort to help these wonderful turtles!

  2. A great story. Thanks for sharing the pictures and story, Connie. I think everyone who reads it has to appreciate the good things done to help animals like this. Candi