Sea turtles rehabilitated at NC aquarium to be released

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Animal Care Team members, Stacey Murray-Rester and Savannah Simpson care for cold-stunned green sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. (Photo: NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher)

KURE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — A dozen rehabilitated sea turtles will be released from the care of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher on Thursday.

The five Kemp’s ridley and seven green sea turtles were originally injured in two separate cold-stunning events.

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The aquarium team has been caring for the Kemp’s ridleys since late November when they arrived from New England. The green sea turtles arrived in mid-December from the Cape Lookout area. The aquarium works with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and other partners to assist in the care of injured sea turtles.

Animal Care Team members ensure the placement and activation of a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag in a rehabilitated green sea turtle at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. (Photo: NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher)

“Our staff adapts and adjusts to care for cold-stunned sea turtles when the need arises, despite not being a traditional sea turtle rehabilitation center,” said Aquarium Curator Julie Smith. “All sea turtle species are critically threatened or endangered globally and the care the aquarium and our partners provide has a positive impact on saving animals.”

Sea turtles are reptiles and cannot control their own body temperatures. Cold stunning can occur when water temperatures drop quickly to below 50 degrees. Cold-stunned turtles become lethargic, experience decreased circulation and heart rates, and may die. They are susceptible to respiratory illness, animal attacks, and bacterial and fungal infections. Serious cuts and abrasions may occur if the animal is washed ashore.



The aquarium’s animal care team provided the rescued sea turtles a special diet and close monitoring for health complications resulting from cold stunning. Staff also administered medical treatments as needed.

The twelve sea turtles were assessed this past week by aquarium veterinarians and determined to be healthy enough for release. Each turtle has received a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag. These tiny radio transponders contain an internal microchip and help conservation scientists identify specific animals in the future.

The animals will be transported to Morehead City by the NCWRC where they will hitch a ride with the United States Coast Guard to be released in the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream.

An additional four green sea turtles will continue their rehabilitation at the aquarium and will be released in the future as determined by their health.

Cold stunning can occur anywhere along the North Carolina coast. Anyone who finds a sick, injured or dead sea turtle should contact the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Sea Turtle Stranding Network at (252) 241-7367.