Rescuers Find More Than 100 Cold-Stunned Turtles Washed Ashore on the Outer Banks

Cold stunning, a form of hypothermia, can occur when water temperatures drop quickly.

Cold Snap Turtles
Photo: Facebook/Cape Hatteras National Seashore

A recent cold snap is threatening the lives of some of the Outer Banks' most vulnerable residents.

The National Park Service reports that more than 100 cold-stunned turtles have washed up on North Carolina's Outer Banks since Tuesday.

On Tuesday, "roughly 95 green and Kemp's ridley cold-stunned sea turtles washed ashore on the sound side of Hatteras Island," Cape Hatteras National Seashore wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

On Wednesday, biological technicians and volunteers rescued 18 more cold-stunned turtles. All of them were successfully transported to the STAR Center at North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island for rehabilitation. Many are expected to be released back into the ocean by the end of the week.

Because they are cold-blooded, sea turtles use the temperature of their surroundings to regulate their body temperature. Cold stunning, a form of hypothermia, can occur when temperatures drop too quickly for them to swim to warmer waters. If cold-stunned turtles don't warm up, the critically endangered creatures can die.

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, turtles are especially vulnerable to cold stunning when water temperatures get below 50 degrees, making cold snaps particularly dangerous for them.

"Cold stunning can be fatal as sea turtles become lethargic, experiencing decreased circulation and slowing of other body functions," NOAA explains on its website. "Cold-stunned sea turtles are more likely to be hit by boats, eaten by predators, become sick, or die as their bodies shut down."

If you do come across a turtle, experts say to assume it's alive and to immediately contact Network for Endangered Sea Turtles' (NEST) 24-hour hotline (252) 441-8622.

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