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Galapagos sea turtle Sea turtles are cold-blooded and migrate to warmer areas during the cooler months of the year. (Andy Rouse / naturepl.com)

Turtle Rescue

Endangered sea turtles return to the Atlantic Ocean after getting lost in Massachusetts

By Sean Price | April 17 , 2013
<p>Female sea turtles typically return to land to lay their eggs. (George H.H. Huey / Corbis)</p>

Female sea turtles typically return to land to lay their eggs. (George H.H. Huey / Corbis)

Fifty-two endangered sea turtles were brought back to good health and returned to the wild earlier this month. Teams of researchers drove the turtles all the way from Massachusetts to Florida, where they were released back into the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The turtles’ story began last fall, when a large number of the reptiles got stuck near Cape Cod in Massachusetts. These tough turtles had to be nursed back to good health for about six months before they could swim in the sea again.

Sea turtles generally live south of the Carolinas in the Atlantic Ocean. But during the summer months, they take a ride on the Gulf Stream—a strong ocean current of warm water that runs north along the east coast. The Gulf Stream brings the turtles plenty of tasty crustaceans and other food to eat.

When summer turns to fall, sea turtles head south again as the water turns colder. That’s because sea turtles are cold-blooded. That means they cannot produce their own body heat. They need the seawater to provide them with heat.

MIGRATION MALFUNCTION

Some turtles don’t get to warmer waters fast enough. When the waters of the northern Atlantic turn cold in the fall, many turtles become “cold stunned.” Their muscles shut down, and they become disoriented, or unable to find their way. The turtles can drift only where the wind and tides take them.

Many of these cold-stunned turtles wash up on the shore near Cape Cod. Last year, a record 242 turtles were rescued there. Scientists are unsure why so many needed to be helped.

The turtles spent the winter getting better at aquariums along the east coast. Some of them were Kemp’s ridley turtles, which can weigh 100 pounds as adults. Others were loggerheads, some of which grow to be 1,000 pounds.

As the weather grew warmer, 52 turtles were ready to return to their natural habitat, or home in the wild. It was a triumph for the turtles and the people who nursed them back to health.

“It’s an exciting day for all these organizations,” said Connie Merigo of the New England Aquarium. “This is what we work for. These are endangered species. So every turtle that gets back out in the wild [and] has a potential to contribute to the population is really important.”

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