120 Endangered Sea Turtles Flown from Cape Cod to Texas for Rehabilitation

118 of the rescued turtles are critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys.

Sea Turtle Transport
Photo: Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo recently welcomed 20 endangered sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The cold-stunned turtles were among 120 suffering from hypothermia and other complications that were flown south to Texas this week. The Houston Zoo is one of seven Lone Star State facilities that will care for and treat the animals including Texas A&M University at Galveston and Texas State Aquarium.

On Monday, staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and New England Aquarium loaded the more than 100 turtles—each tucked into banana boxes with towels—onto a SAAB 340B turboprop aircraft donated by Castle Aviation and Jetstream Aviation Capital.

Of the 120 turtles that made the journey, 118 are critically endangered Kemp's ridleys, one is a green sea turtle, and one appears to be a hybrid. The Houston Zoo Sea Turtle Hospital keepers will be responsible for daily care of 19 Kemp's ridleys and the single hybrid turtle.

Sea Turtle Transport
Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

Because sea turtles rely on heat from their environment to maintain their body temperatures, they become lethargic and unable to swim when water temperatures drop rapidly. Many of the rescued turtles have pneumonia, and some have other medical conditions or injuries from being washed against rocks. They require expert care, but the rehabilitation facilities in New England are all full.

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"We've already transported more than 200 turtles out of the state, so we are running out of options for long-term care. The Texas rehabilitation facilities have generously offered their assistance, which is a huge help to us. This transport was one of the largest ever," Kate Sampson, NOAA Fisheries sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator for the Greater Atlantic Region, said in a release. "For an endangered species like Kemp's ridley, it is important to save as many individuals as possible to contribute to the recovery of the species. We're so grateful to all of the dedicated and caring people who make this effort happen."

After arriving at the seven facilities, each turtle received a physical exam, and all are said to be doing well. The goal is to release these turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico as soon as they are healthy enough to return.

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