‘Cold-stunned’ New England sea turtles are thawing out in the Keys

The Keys and South Florida may feel a little cool to the people used to living here, but they’re still warm enough to thaw out more than 30 critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles found in the frigid New England ocean waters off Cape Cod recently.

The 32 reptiles were flown by jet to the Marathon International Airport by all-volunteer recreational pilots from a group called Turtles Fly Too. The plane arrived from Quincy, Massachusetts Tuesday, Andy Newman, with the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council, said in a press release.


Staff members at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon look at a portion of a group of 32 cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles after they were flown to the subtropical Keys Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Once the sea turtles are healthy enough to be released, they are to be returned to warmer waters off Florida.

Larry Benvenuti Florida Keys News Bureau

They were taken to convalesce at Marathon’s renowned Turtle Hospital.

Several of the animals, which were rescued between late November and December, are suffering from compromised immune systems and a condition called “cold stunning,” where they become hypothermic after being exposed to cold water for too long, Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital, said.

Turtles can’t regulate their body temperature, so exposure to water below 60 degrees Fahrenheit is dangerous to them, according to Newman’s release.


From left, Brooke Burkhalter, Bette Zirkelbach, Shelby Loos and Jeff Carr work to intubate a cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtle at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

Larry Benvenuti Florida Keys News Bureau

“Once we get them into rehabilitation, we have warmer waters right here for them in our rehabilitation tanks,” Zirkelbach told Newman. “The turtles have been flown south literally to warm up and get care at the Turtle Hospital.”

The turtles received initial treatment at the New England Aquarium in Quincy.

At the turtle hospital, they will receive antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a “mixed seafood diet,” according to the release.

They will eventually be released in the warmer waters off Florida when they are deemed healthy enough, Newman said.