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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

Sea turtle rescue: What you should know

For anyone who’s been along the shores of Cape Cod Bay during November, the scene will be an all too familiar one on Wednesday.

Temperatures in the mid 30s, along with blustery northwest winds, are in the forecast. A gale warning has been posted.

That means it will be a busy day for the Mass. Audubon Society volunteers, especially in the mid and late afternoon hours when the high tide begins to roll in. It’s sea turtle stranding season — expect many of the confused and cold-stunned reptiles to be washed ashore.

UPDATE ON THURSDAY, NOV. 15, 6:15 P.M.: The Cape Cod Times is reporting that 60 turtles have washed up on bayside shores over the last two days.

From late October to as late as early January, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles find themselves trapped in the confines of Cape Cod Bay. As water temperatures drop through the 50s during October, the turtles hesitate to swim into the colder open waters, opting to stay behind in what seems to be warmer surroundings, only to be stunned by the chill. Many wash ashore, and either die instantly or shortly thereafter. Some, however, are still alive.

Mass. Audubon’s Bob Prescott found his first sea turtle back in 1974. His own autumnal turtle searches continued for the next couple of years, then he got the public involved in 1977. Mass. Audubon now has a whole army of volunteers on patrol, especially during high risk weather events, such as storms or northwesterly gales, just before and after high tides. Yes, that means not only daytime hours, but the middle of the night too.

Generally, most of the washashore turtles are about the size of a dinner plate, but the occasional giant leatherback will turn up, such as the one at Eastham’s First Encounter Beach this past weekend. Unfortunately, that turtle didn’t make it. This past Sunday, 13 cold-stunned sea turtles, about three-quarters of them alive, were recovered.

If you happen to find a turtle, don’t try to move it. Cover it with seaweed or eel grass, and mark the spot. Then call Mass. Audubon at 508-349-2615. They’ll send someone down to pick it up. (More info in the photo gallery above)

The turtle is cared for at Mass. Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary before it’s sent off to the New England Aquarium for rehabilitation. Should the turtle survive, it’s eventually released back into the wild.

Why should the public care about this? Well, for one thing, many Cape Codders have that great appreciation for nature. Many of these turtles are endangered or threatened. From another point of view, the turtles are the primary predator of jellyfish. The more turtles, the fewer jellyfish. That alone should be a comfort to anyone who’s ever been stung during a summertime swim.

Prescott told The Cape Codder back in 2005, suddenly moving the turtle into a warmer location can be dangerous. It’s a slow process. “It’s not a case of getting medication into them, but getting their chemicals balanced,” he said.

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A sea turtle open house will be held at Mass. Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Rte. 6 in Wellfleet just north of the Wellfleet Drive-In and Eastham border, on Saturday, Nov. 24, from noon to 4 p.m.

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