The Kemp’s – why is it always the Kemp’s that are the cold-stun equivalent of the first snow of the season? When winter rolls around it’s not a question of if we’ll admit a slew of cold-stunned turtles but a matter of when. That “when” was just before the last day of November when 16 Kemp’s Ridleys, the most highly endangered species of sea turtles arrived in their banana box carriers.

This particular group was part of the 200 turtles that had already been picked up in the Chesapeake Bay area and transported to the New England Aquarium for evaluation and initial treatment. After being stabilized and treated with any needed medication the Kemp’s continued their journey to our hospital with a brief stop at CMAST (Morehead City) to make sure they were doing OK.

I admit to having a soft spot for Kemp’s – they are just so feisty and independent. But when you’ve been semi-frozen and spent hours in a banana box travelling down the east coast it’s hard to live up to that reputation. Plus, collectively, these are the tiniest Kemp’s we’ve ever seen. We’ve upgraded the size of our cold-stun tanks and the critters look teensy nestled in very shallow water and covered with a wash cloth. But even a normal size wash cloth is too big and has to be folded in half.

Because this is the first large stunning event, these guys, as little as they are, haven’t been beaten up too terribly. When we really see a lot of external damage is when the turtle has stunned several times and progressively weakens, unable to fight the tides and being battered to the bottom by wave after wave. They are all very dehydrated and will be receiving IV fluids until they’re looking more like sea turtles than desert tortoises.

These Kemp’s, which will soon have their painted-on numbers replaced by names, will continue on their course of antibiotics started at the New England Aquarium and monitored closely by our staff for any changes. Pneumonia is always a concern, and with a few of these guys exhibiting raspy breathing our turtle vet, Dr. Craig Harms might be adding or adjusting medications as necessary. We’ll also BOLO for any signs of damage to bones, another common, debilitating effect of prolonged cold. By the time you read this hopefully all of these guys and gals will have regained their appetite and will be making observable strides in their recovery.

If you see a turtle on the beach or in the marshy area that is not moving please do not assume that it’s dead; it could be cold stunned. If it’s a little guy gently pick it up and relocate it to a car, garage or other unheated area of your home. Do not try to warm it up – the shock of a quick temperature change could send it into shock. We’ll send our staff out to rescue any and all turtles, big and small when you give us the word. Call one of the following numbers if you suspect you’ve come across a local cold-stunned turtle: Hospital contacts are Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 and Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line 910-329-0222) if the call comes into us early in the day. The state of NC has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367

If you want to see the cutest Kemp’s in the world in person you’ll only have a few more days until we close for public tours on Saturday, Dec. 16 and not reopen until April 2018. We are open only on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. through that date. Your absolute last chance to complete your holiday gift-giving list will be a special “shopping only” date on Dec. 20 from 1-4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for active military and seniors 65+ and $3 for children 12 and under. The hospital is located at 302 Tortuga Lane in Surf City. From NC 50/210 turn onto Charlie Medlin Dr. (your landmark is Shipwreck Point Mini Golf) and follow it through the roundabout onto Tortuga. Our gift shop is always open during tours. Thanks to all our fall “fisher-people” who have been delivering your extra catch to our hospital. Our turtles love fresh fish, especially blues, albacore and meaty stuff. So if you find yourself with more than you can use please give us a call at 910-329-0222 and we’ll gladly take them off of your hands and make sure they do not go to waste.

This column will appear every other week through the rest of the year. Direct questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: flippers@att.net.

 

Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.