Volunteers Rescue 4,000 Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles in South Padre Island: "It's Unprecedented"

“A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work.”

Sea turtle rescuers in South Padre Island, Texas, are dealing with a crisis of unprecedented proportions amid a record-breaking winter storm.

A representative for Sea Turtle, Inc. told CBS News that they have rescued more than 4,000 cold-stunned sea turtles on South Padre Island as freezing temperatures continue to wreak havoc across the region.

Volunteers have spent days transporting the comatose turtles to the town's convention center, where conservationists are working to save their lives by gradually increasing their body temperatures—no easy feat without power.

Sea turtles are especially susceptible to cold stunning if water temperatures fall below 50 degrees. Frigid temperatures cause a turtle's heart rate to lower and its flippers to become paralyzed.

"Cold stunning can be fatal as sea turtles become lethargic, experiencing decreased circulation and slowing of other body functions," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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."

Cold Stunned Sea Turtles
Courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc.

Volunteers with Sea Turtle, Inc. told The Washington Post that in a normal year, they might rescue anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred cold-stunned turtles.

Wendy Knight, the executive director the non-profit rescue group, worries that it's already too late for hundreds of the endangered animals.

"It's unprecedented," she said. "A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work, and we're going through it with no power and a unique, more catastrophic challenge to our efforts."

Early Wednesday morning, as the South Padre Island Convention Center approached its third day without power, SpaceX arrived on the scene with a commercial generator big enough to host the facility's electrical services.

Volunteers can now begin the grim process of assessing the health of the poor creatures.

The rescue center asks anybody that finds a stranded sea turtle in the South Padre Island area call (956) 243-4361.

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