We are now in the midst of rehabilitating endangered sea turtles that washed up on Cape Cod beaches this fall, incapacitated with hypothermia and other ailments. This post explains what happens after a turtle's initial health assessment arrives from Cape Cod during its journey to recovery. 

Once rescuers have an idea of a turtle's physical health—including its body temperature—they need to find out how it behaves in water. Is it active and swimming about? Does it lift its head to breath? Or does it just float motionless? Answers to these questions help paint a full picture about the turtle's overall health and fitness.

A rescuer hold a turtle's head above water

So, to the pool! Kiddie pools, in fact. After initial exams the new patients are brought into a chilly room with several kiddie pools filled just a couple inches deep full of water. There are sometimes even ice packs floating in the water to keep it cool. The air and water temperature is carefully calculated so that it closely matches the turtle's internal body temperature.

Volunteers and interns have to don winter parkas when new patients arrive for their first swim. The room and water
temperature is often in the 50s or 60s!

It makes for a chilly lifeguarding job, but it's important that someone is closely monitoring each animal to ensure they are safe. The lifeguards sometimes tap the turtle's shell to stimulate a swimming response. If a turtle is particularly lethargic, they sometimes have to hold its head above water. You can bet they're wearing their thick winter parkas for this job!

As we mentioned in an earlier post, getting the temperature of the turtle is crucial because it's important not to raise the temperature of the animal too quickly (more on that in a later post, stay tuned)—even if the turtle's internal temperature is very low. Each swim is not very long. After their quick dip, the turtles are nestled into their banana boxes, where they spend time in air conditioned rooms to rest and recuperate. They'll have longer and longer swims in kiddie pools each day until they are warm and strong enough to join the turtles in the large pools.

A large pool full of recuperating turtles. The mesh dividers keep turtles organized into separate pens, depending
on their species, size, food needs or other general health concerns.

The next step in a turtle's recovery can, and should, take a little while. The rescuers have to warm those turtles up! Stay tuned for more on this stage in a turtle's road to recovery.

Stranding season, in review:
  • This year beach walkers rescued nearly 90 turtles
  • The turtles were treated at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass., and many were moved to partnering rescue facilities to make room for more patients. 
  • Right now there are more than 40 turtles in treatment at the Aquarium's facilities—mostly Kemp's ridley sea turtles and some loggerhead and green sea turtles. 

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