32 Endangered Cold Stunned Sea Turtles Flown to Corpus Christi, Texas for Medical Treatment and Care
December 23, 2021
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX – On Wednesday, December 22, thirty-two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were flown to Corpus Christi, Texas from New England Aquarium by Turtles Fly Too, a charitable organization that facilitates relocation efforts for endangered species using volunteer pilots across the U.S. These sea turtles were found cold-stunned on Cape Cod, Massachusetts beaches and suffering from hypothermia, pneumonia, and other injuries from being washed against rocks. Rehabilitation facilities in New England are reaching capacity; therefore, Texas rehabilitation facilities are getting together to help these animals in their time of need.
On Wednesday morning, staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and the New England Aquarium helped load the turtles onto an aircraft owned and operated by Turtles Fly Too volunteer pilot Chuck Yanke. The turtles were tucked into boxes, wrapped in towels, and remained at temperatures of 70-75℉.
Pilots Chuck Yanke and Julie Tromblay left Pittsburg at 7:00 a.m. after stopping in Massachusetts to load the sea turtles. They landed in Corpus Christi at 4:30 p.m., and the sea turtles were promptly unloaded from the plane at Atlantic Aviation.
The sea turtles will receive treatment and care from various facilities in Corpus Christi, including the Texas State Aquarium, which will be responsible for the daily care of 11 of the 32 sea turtles, 11 will be transported to the ARK at UT Marine Science Institute and 10 will go to the Texas Sealife Center.
“The Texas Sealife Center is happy to be able to assist other rehabilitation facilities around the country with this collaborative effort,” said Amanda Terry, Director of Rehabilitation at the Texas Sea Life Center.
Upon the sea turtle’s arrival at each rehabilitation center, the sea turtles’ health conditions were assessed and treated for any medical conditions. The sea turtles are being closely inspected to determine injuries, weight, vital signs, and other details that will affect their treatment and release. Their treatment includes physical exams, antibiotics, bloodwork, and X-rays. Each sea turtle receives an individualized treatment plan.
“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world and also the official state sea turtle of Texas. These 32 juvenile Kemp’s ridleys most likely hatched on a beach in Texas or Tamaulipas, Mexico, so in a way, they have returned home. Our goal is to help these turtles get well so that they can nest on our beaches when they are adults, to help the species recover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very grateful to Turtles Fly Too, NOAA, Texas Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator Dr. Donna Shaver, and all the rehabilitation partners across the country who helped with this effort,” said Mary Kay Skoruppa, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Corpus Christi.
Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles that rely on heat from their environment to maintain their body temperature. When water and air temperatures drop rapidly, they become lethargic and unable to swim. Cold stunned turtles require expert medical care.
“Our Wildlife Rescue Team was ready to assist our partners at NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the recovery of this vulnerable species during these winter months. Upon intake of these cold-stunned turtles, each received a physical evaluation, and our animal health and rescue teams will continue to provide ’round-the-clock care to every patient. We will keep working hard towards the greater goal of returning these endangered animals back to their natural habitat,” said Texas State Aquarium President and CEO, Jesse Gilbert.
The Aquarium would like to extend a special thanks to Dr. Clay Hilton and the licensed veterinary technologists from the Department of Animal Science and Veterinary Technology at Texas A&M University Kingsville (TAMUK) for assisting with the intake and examinations of the sea turtles at the Wildlife Rescue Center. “We are very glad that through this partnership with the Aquarium we are able to help with these types of conservation efforts that help us learn more about these animals and take lessons back to our students,” said Christine Hoskinson Assistant Director of Veterinary Technology at TAMUK Veterinary Technology Program.
The goal of this rehabilitation effort is to release these turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico as soon as they are healthy enough to return to the ocean.
For pilots or others who would like more information about Turtles Fly Too, please visit https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/.
Credit: Texas State Aquarium
Credit: Texas State Aquarium