Sea Turtle Rescues at Cape Lookout

Rescued sea turtle gets a ride

A rescued sea turtle gets a ride. NPS photo.

Numerous sea turtles have been caught by unusually cold weather along the North Carolina coast since mid-November. That has led to dozens of rescues of the endangered reptiles in the past week at Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Stunned by a two-week period of abnormally cold weather along the Mid-Atlantic coastline, they were blown onto beaches at Cape Lookout last week, where they risked death by freezing. All six species of sea turtles occurring in the United States are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Park staff rescued 44 sea turtles over a recent five-day period last week. Park biologist Jon Altman and protection ranger Shad Dusseau collected and transported hypothermic turtles from outer banks islands to the mainland, while other park staff and visitors combed the beaches and collected other turtles.

The recovered animals were turned over to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and moved to the North Carolina Aquarium and the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital at Topsail Beach for re-warming. Several of the turtles weighed well over 150 pounds. Only three turtles died before being turned over to the state. The remainder will be released into warm Gulf Stream waters in the near future.

Karen Sota, a volunteer at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island said, "Cold weather started it all - with the precipitous drop in temperature, these guys can‘t regulate their body temperature." She noted that most have been green turtles around two years old and a few are loggerheads.

The Center's Executive Director said their staff was overwhelmed by the number of turtles, noting that the situation was unusual. "This has never happened before," at least in the years the Turtle Rehabilitation Center has been in existence.

This story has generated considerable media interest in the Southeast, along with positive publicity for the park and other agencies involved in the turtle rescue effort.