Turtle Rescue Center - Quincy, Massachusetts

New turtle rescue center arrives in nick of time

By Doug Fraser / The Cape Cod TimesFriday, December 3, 2010

QUINCY — Workers in the New England Aquarium’s 23,000-square-foot brick building in the Fore River Shipyard once manufactured pipes for large ships such as Navy destroyers and battleships, nuclear subs and massive LNG tankers.

Six weeks ago, after a $3.5 million renovation, the pipe plant was reborn as the aquarium’s Animal Rescue Center. The makeover was just in time, as this year will likely break records for the number of endangered sea turtles suffering from the effects of cold air and frigid water temperatures that are rescued at Cape beaches.

The Animal Rescue Center has treated 85 turtles so far this year, and the facility could see more than 200 of the marine reptiles by the time the turtle stranding season ends just after Christmas.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, warm-water animals that sometimes linger too late into the fall or are trapped by the unique hook shape of Cape Cod’s inner bay as they attempt to migrate south. They become immobilized during a cold snap, then surface and are blown to shore.

"This number of turtles would have crippled us (at the New England Aquarium’s main facility) in Boston," rescue program director Connie Merigo said Thursday.

The new facility triples the amount of area the aquarium has available for treating stricken sea turtles to 2,800 square feet. Another 2,700 square feet is devoted to offices and medical labs. Storage, life-support systems providing water and other essential aquarium needs, and two large tanks containing 54,000 and 30,000 gallons of water each are in the other 18,000 square feet. Two more large tanks are planned.

The facility was renovated almost entirely through fundraising and aquarium ticket revenues.

"This is something we have been talking about since I can remember," said Barbara Bailey, the animal husbandry operations manager who has been working at the aquarium for 25 years. The Quincy facility also gives aquarium staff the space to do more behind-the-scenes work on new exhibits.

The new facility gives the aquarium a place to store creatures it will use in new exhibits and the ability to quarantine new arrivals to prevent the introduction of parasites and marine diseases.

Looking like miniature hammerhead sharks, bonnet-head sharks wove through a "kelp" bed of blue and green plastic ribbons in one large tank Thursday. Like a flock of birds, flying in slow-motion, dozens of cow-nosed rays glided past a window in a second tank, trailing whip-like tails. Collected by divers in the Mid-Atlantic over the past summer, these animals will be part of a new shark and ray-petting exhibit when a new display area in Boston is completed.

A large southern ray, with a 3-foot wingspan moved like a giant among the smaller rays. One wing had been stitched after an encounter with a big shark in the main exhibition tank in Boston.

"It's like a timeout," aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said.

85 more turtles rescued at Cape shore

By Jeffrey FishGlobe Correspondent / December 1, 2010

Eighty-five more sea turtles have been rescued from the cold beaches of Cape Cod Bay in recent days, bringing the total number of stranded turtles reported this season up to 138, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

The turtles were found on the sand, their body temperatures at hypothermic levels, from last Thursday to midday Monday, according to the wildlife sanctuary’s outreach coordinator, Melissa Lowe.

“It’s been a busy week,’’ she said. “It’s a huge number.’’

Of the 138 turtles recovered so far, 107 were alive, 26 were dead, and the fates of five were unknown because they were seen floating in the water, Lowe said.

The largest number of turtles stranded in a single season was 278 in 1999, according to Shana Brogan, an administrative assistant at the wildlife sanctuary. The second highest number was last year with 203 strandings, she said.

Most of the turtles this season were recovered from Brewster and Dennis, which have north-facing beaches along Cape Cod Bay. The turtles were carried there by northerly winds, Lowe said.

The majority of the turtles found have been Kemp’s Ridleys, the most endangered species of sea turtle, she said.

Kemp’s Ridleys are born in the Gulf of Mexico and a portion of the juvenile population travels up the Atlantic coast, according to Ashley Gorr, a sea turtle field assistant at the wildlife sanctuary.

Most of that population makes it only as far as New Jersey, but some travel farther and end up in Cape Cod Bay. Cape Cod’s shape makes it difficult for the turtles to navigate their way out and they become stranded as the water gets colder and their body temperatures drop, Gorr said.

Finally, winds from the north and west cause currents that wash the turtles ashore, Gorr said, and exacerbate their hypothermic conditions.

Volunteers who comb the beaches looking for turtles recovered the most recent group. They were then brought to the New England Aquarium’s new animal care center in Quincy.

Although most of the recovered turtles survive, Lowe said, as water temperatures continue to drop, there will probably be more fatalities.

She said that anyone who spots a turtle should move it above the high tide line and cover it with seaweed to insulate it so the wind does not further lower its body temperature.

“First and foremost, don’t put them back in the water,’’ she said.

Afterward, people should mark the spot with beach debris and call the wildlife sanctuary at 508-349-2615, Lowe said.

Jeffrey Fish can be reached at jfish@globe.com.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

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