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Town of Dennis, Massachusetts
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Cold Stunned Turtles


Kemps Ridley Turtles:
The two turtles pictured above (Fred and Barney) were rescued from Cape Cod Bay at Crowes Pasture December 3, 2010 by Department of Natural Resources Officer Paul Wightman. Sea turtle strandings are an annual fall occurrence on Cape Cod Bay beaches located from Dennis to Truro because many of the marine reptiles spend the summer in waters north of the Cape and some linger too long.  When the temperatures drop, and the turtles’ instincts prompt them to move south, they get blocked by the Cape and wash ashore. They usually can be found at high tide.  The cold-blooded turtles thrive in waters that are about 70 degrees, but the ones that have been rescued this week were exposed to water temperatures that hovered in the mid- to low 50s.
Stranded Turtles are sent to the Audubon Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. Stranded turtles have lost important nutrients while in the cold water, and a quick change in temperature would shock their system. Once back at Wellfleet, the staff works around the clock analyzing blood, and re-hydrating the turtles. Once stabilized, the turtles go to the New England Aquarium in Boston for further evaluation and rehabilitation. To date an estimated 150 turtles have been rescued.

What to Do if You Find a Cold Stunned Sea Turtle
Cold-stunned strandings of endangered sea turtles occur each fall in Cape Cod Bay.  These juvenile reptiles, usually two to five years old, become trapped by walls of cold ocean water within the warmer hook of Cape Cod during normal southward migration as temperatures drop early each fall.  When bay water plunges to around 50F, these turtles become cold-stunned, enter a stupor-like state and are tossed on the beach by sustained winds. Sea turtles are federally protected and cannot be legally handled without an appropriate license. 

If you see a sea turtle in distress on the beach please do the following:
  • Move the turtle above the high tide line.  DO NOT PUT IT BACK INTO THE WATER or REMOVE IT FROM THE BEACH.
  • Cover it with seaweed or eelgrass, so that it is no longer exposed to cold wind.
  • Mark the spot with a piece of beach debris (i.e. lobster buoy or driftwood).
  • Call the Department of Natural Resources at 508-760-6123 or Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary Sea Turtle Hotline at 508-349-2615, ext. 104.  Please leave the exact location as well as any distinguishable landmarks.  DNR staff or a rescue crew will be promptly dispatched to the location.

Dennis Town Seal
Town of Dennis, Massachusetts
685 Route 134
South Dennis, MA 02660
PH: 508.394.8300    FAX: 508.394.8309
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