In the summer months, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles migrate closer to the New England shore where the water is warm, then back to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream as seawater cools.
At least, most of them do.
Some get disoriented or confused and stay in the water as it cools, leading to hypothermia and other health issues. Eventually many wash ashore. The ones that are still alive are rescued by the New England stranding network and cared for by the New England Aquarium.
Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium took in 15 of the endangered reptiles this week.
“Overall they had over 900 cold stunned sea turtles last year,” Director of Animal Health Ginger Sturgeon said. “This year, we’re currently up to over 100, but it’s still kind of early in the game, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Pittsburgh Zoo joined the network last year, agreeing to house and rehabilitate troubled turtles when the New England Aquarium reaches capacity – about 100 in an average year. Sturgeon said specialists cared for 14 last season; 12 were released back into the wild and two died.
This year’s crop will reside at the zoo for six to nine months, she said.
“What we’re waiting for is the weather to warm back up, the ocean waters to warm back up," Sturgeon said. "Eventually, once we get them in a healthy place, (we) put them back out into the Gulf Stream so they can complete their migration and live a normal turtle life.”
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are considered critically endangered. Their numbers hit the lowest level about a decade ago, Sturgeon said, but the population is currently on the rebound.