Texas State Aquarium Helps Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles from Massachusetts

December 8, 2020

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX –On Monday, December 7, The Texas State Aquarium accepted 20 cold-stunned turtles from Turtles Fly Too. These sea turtles were found on Cape Cod, Massachusetts beaches suffering from hypothermia and other complications in recent weeks.

Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary responds to these cold-stunned turtles. They transport live turtles to two Massachusetts rehabilitation facilities: the New England Aquarium and the National Marine Life Center. 

On Monday morning, staff from NOAA Fisheries and the New England Aquarium helped load the turtles, each tucked into banana boxes with towels, into the plane. For the flights, the turtles need to remain at temperatures of 70-75℉. Of the 120 turtles that made the journey, 118 are Kemp’s ridleys, one is a green sea turtle, and one appears to be a hybrid.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded and rely on heat from their environment to maintain their body temperatures. When water temperatures drop rapidly, they become lethargic and unable to swim due to the cold. Many of the turtles have pneumonia, and some have other medical conditions or injuries from being washed against rocks. They require expert care—but with so many turtles, the rehabilitation facilities are filling up. And it’s only early December. The cold-stun season usually lasts until late December or early January.

Castle Aviation and Jetstream Aviation Capital joined forces to donate a SAAB 340B turboprop aircraft to move these turtles. “We couldn’t be more excited to relocate these little guys to be rehabilitated and released back to where they belong,” said Michael H. Grossmann, CEO of Castle Aviation. Stuart Klaskin, CEO of Jetstream, said, “We are honored to help Castle to provide this plane for this extraordinary opportunity.”

Pilots Michael Looby and William Gisler took off at 7:50 a.m. and landed in Galveston eight hours later. They unloaded 30 turtles, 10 to Texas A&M University at Galveston and 20 to the Houston Zoo Sea Turtle Hospital at NOAA’s Galveston Lab. Then, they flew to Port Isabel, where they unloaded 20 turtles headed to Sea Turtle Inc. After that, they stopped in Corpus Christi, where they unloaded 60 turtles, with 20 each going to The ARK, Texas SeaLife Center, and Texas State Aquarium. The final stop was Dallas, where Sea Life Grapevine picked up the remaining 10 turtles. The total transport time was 14 hours.

“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 are receiving 24-hour care,” said Texas State Aquarium Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Jesse Gilbert. “Thank you to Texas A&M College Station’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Texas A&M Kingsville’s Veterinary Technology Program for assisting with the examinations.”

After arriving at the seven facilities, each turtle received a physical exam, and all are said to be doing well. The goal is to release these turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico as soon as they are healthy enough to return.

See photos here: Photos

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