Cold-stunned turtles have been rescued from the chilly waters pertaining to the Gulf of Mexico, and have recently started a lengthy process of rehabilitation.
Several juvenile sea turtles were discovered as they were floating aimlessly off Florida’s coast, after having been left defenseless by the freezing water temperatures.
Normally these marine creatures spend the summer and the beginning of autumn near the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic coastline, and as the weather becomes cooler they start migrating southward.
When this drop in temperatures occurs too abruptly, they are forced to brave the biting cold without ever managing to reach warmer regions.
Since they are ectotherms, they are unable to adapt their body temperature and generate heat internally. As a result, when the water gets freezing cold, they experience hypothermia, which manifests itself through lowered blood flow and pulse, coupled with sluggishness and disorientation.
Progressively, cold-stunned turtles succumb to pneumonia or lose control over their movements, suffering paralysis and shock. Many of these aquatic creatures die in the water, while others drift off to the shore, where they are left stranded and eventually meet their demise.
Such an occurrence was reported in the Gulf of Mexico, near Florida’s coastline, where members of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium encountered cold-stunned turtles, which were moving aimlessly pushed by the wind blowing at 20 miles per hour, in water whose temperature had dropped to 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
The volunteers immediately launched a rescue operation for the reptiles suffering from advanced hypothermia, while having to accept that some of the creatures had already perished in the frigid water.
The cold-stunned animals were placed in a pickup truck and transported to the Turtle Hospital, located in Marathon, some of them dying before veterinarians got to provide them with medical care.
Seven sea turtles, believed to be juveniles, are now being treated for hypothermia, and more such reptiles will be brought to the clinic the following days by members of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but a long road to recovery awaits.
As explained by Bette Zirkelbach, manager at the Turtle Hospital, four of the reptiles are currently responding to treatment, feeding on squid as heartily as before, but they will still have to be subjected to surgery.
Apparently, they have benign tumors triggered by fibropapillomatosis, a disease brought about by a herpes virus, and these external growths will have to be removed so as not to interfere with basic functions, such as sight, movement and swallowing.
Overall, the entire rehabilitation process supervised by Dr. Raj Joshi and his colleagues is expected to span for around 2 years, following which the sea turtles will finally be released back into the wild.
It’s obvious that the number of cold-stunned sea turtles has been increasing dramatically in recent years: 68 such creatures were treated by the Marathon hospital in 2013, 93 in 2014, whereas in 2017 their number climbed to 172.
One possible explanation for this upward trend is global warming, whose effects have been exacerbated by an overly potent El Niño in the last few months.
Image Source: Flickr