National Aquarium's Animal Rescue program caring for 15 sea turtles cold-stunned on beaches

Posted at 12:56 PM, Feb 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-09 17:51:21-05

Fifteen young sea turtles swim round and round a pool designed especially for them at the National Aquarium's Animal Rescue program.

They are part of an original group of 21 sea turtles rescued off the beaches of Cape Cod, Mass. and New York in November and December of 2016. Two organizations in those states gave immediate care to the ailing sea turtles before they came to Baltimore.

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"So once the turtles are stabilized and up to temp and starting antibiotics, they'll be able to be transferred out to other rehab organizations," said Jennifer Dittmar, the manager at the Animal Rescue Center.

The sea turtles were found cold-stunned, which is like hypothermia. When a sea turtle is cold-stunned, their body temperature is extremely low and they have to be warmed up very slowly to avoid further complications, said Dittmar.

When the sea turtles came to the National Aquarium, they were dealing with secondary effects of cold-stunning, like pneumonia, joint infections, cuts and gastrointestinal issues.

There are currently 13 Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and two green sea turtles at the National Aquarium. The Kemp's Ridley turtles are critically endangered. Each of the turtles is named after a character or object in the Harry Potter series.

The staff just released a group of six sea turtles late January in Florida. They're hoping to release another group later this month, as long as they stay on track to full rehabilitation.

"Release events are definitely bittersweet," Dittmar said. "It's always great to be able to take an animal that would have likely died on a beach and rehabilitate it and give it a second chance."

"Its also tough for some of our volunteers because they have spent so much time caring for these animals and seeing them recover," she said. "So its a bittersweet moment but its also our end goal to get them to their natural environment."

Since the Animal Rescue program started in 1991, they have released 170 animals back into the wild, about half of them Kemp's Ridley sea turtles. They also work with seals who have stranded on beaches.

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