Museum staff assist with cold-stunned turtles

For immediate release ‐ January 13, 2016

Contact: Jon Pishney, 919.707.8083. Images available upon request

You may have heard of the hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles that washed ashore or were found in waters off the North Carolina Coast in early January. While the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island has facilities to handle up to 40 sea turtles during a typical winter, this particular incident affected over 600. Based on a request from the aquarium’s veterinary staff and the resources available at the Museum, members of the Museum’s Living Collections Section volunteered to rehabilitate seven juvenile green sea turtles that required several weeks of medical care.

What is cold-stunning and why did this happen? The extended very-warm weather in December warmed the bay and ocean water temperatures enough to draw many sea turtles in and encouraged others to migrate north along the coast. The sudden drop to below-normal temperatures in early January rapid-chilled these waters and “cold-stunned” the turtles. Cold-stunning is a medical emergency for a sea turtle. It induces a torpor that results in a decreased heart rate, lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death. While most do not require an extensive rehabilitation, sea turtles affected by cold-stunning usually do not survive in the wild.

Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Dan Dombrowski, notes that just days after their arrival: “All turtles looked good and are showing improvement in their hydration status, attitude and activity level. All have been offered a small amount of food and have been observed eating.” Dombrowski adds that after their rehabilitation the turtles should be ready for re-release into warmer ocean waters, likely within three to eight weeks (end of January – end of February).

Your donations can help the Museum supply these turtles with appropriate food, medicine, husbandry supplies and more. Our goal is to raise the approximately $7,000 needed to rehabilitate these sea turtles with any additional funds being used for the direct support of other animals in the Museum’s care.

Back to the News