December of 2012 broke all kinds of records for “warmest ever” and we admitted just a flipper full of cold stuns. But that was December, and this is January, and what a difference the turn of the calendar page made! As the old year rang out, our doorbell “rang in” the arrival of half-frozen turtles of all sizes and species. They came from near (just down the road) and far (north of the Outer Banks) for careful thawing out and our expert TLC.
If you’ve ever been to visit us at our current location you can just imagine the challenges we faced as Jean received call after call from various agencies, aquariums and “turtle people” frantically looking for a room at our inn. We were already wall-to-wall with large Loggerheads, big turtles recuperating in big tanks. Our goal is to always do our best to make a place for a turtle in need, so we looked at what we had, shrugged our shoulders and said: “we’ll make it work.” Like Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill the time) our hospital somehow expanded to fit in 29 turtles on top of the 17 already in residence.
Sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles. When caught in rapidly cooling water and air temps they become immobile as the blood moves from the exposed areas (flippers and head) to their more vital internal organs. That leaves them at the mercy of the tides, which is why so many of them are found stranded on beaches and in marshy areas. If predators in search of an easy snack spot them they can do a lot of damage to these helpless critters, especially to their eyes. Turtles of all sizes can become cold-stunned, but the little Greens and small Kemp’s seem to be hit especially hard every year. And when the little Greens arrive, they really are green, sporting their winter coats of feathery algae, accessorized with barnacles. It might not be easy being (a) Green, but being at the wrong place when the weather changes is no bed of seaweed for Kemp’s and Loggerheads, either.
The influx of dozens of turtles has our all-volunteer staff in a flurry. We spend more time in the kitchen preparing meals, and lots of time squatting and kneeling on the floor beside tanks coaxing sick turtles to eat. Their weight and measurements are recorded weekly, and sometimes their diets must be revised on a daily basis. We’re extra, extra vigilant, constantly monitoring each patient for signs of distress as we gradually warm them and raise their water levels. There are decisions to be made upon admission, and during their recovery as to what type of water is best for their condition (fresh, salt, mix) and the types and dosages of antibiotics, supportive fluids and vitamins to prevent infection and pneumonia. Some have obvious injuries that will require months of treatment. The lucky ones might need only the sea turtle equivalent of a few spa services for their rough and abraded skin (antibiotic soaks and ointments) and maybe a mani/pedi or two (barnacle and algae removal). But until they’re on the road to recovery, every turtle gets taken out of their tank every day for a thorough exam by our volunteers, and then returned to a sparkling clean, warm home. It’s a lot of work, a lot of laundry and a lot of sweat, and you can probably smell most of coming from miles away — sorry about that!
With all the extra mouths to feed and carapaces to attend to, one of our patients seems to be a bit put out that she is not getting as much attention as before. Although our big girl, “Padi” is by no means being neglected, she shows her displeasure by splashing anyone who dares to pass her by without speaking to her or tossing in a treat. Our volunteers leave soaking wet, in danger of being cold-stunned on their way out the door! Can you say “diva?”
Besides the obvious stresses being experienced by our staff and turtles you can imagine what this is doing to our budget. We’ve never taken a cent of taxpayer money; our turtles get a second chance only because you believe in what we do. Please check our website, www.seaturtlehospital.org for the various options (donations, adoptions, gift shop, Family Giving) available for supporting our work.
For up-to-date information on individual turtles, their treatments and other hospital news, check our Facebook page (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Please make sure you “like” us.
What to do if you find a cold-stunned turtle
Please continue to keep a lookout for any turtles you see stranded on the beach, in the grasses along the shore and in the water.
The turtle may appear to be dead (and very cold) but there is a chance that it’s cold-stunned and can be successfully rehabilitated with immediate and proper care. Don’t assume it is dead if it’s not moving. It might be cold stunned, and when rescued in time the prognosis for these critters is excellent.
If you come across a stunned turtle carefully pick it up and place it in a protected but not overly warm area (a garage, car or laundry room would work well).
Do not place the turtle in warm water; a sudden change in temperature will send it into shock and possibly kill it.
Immediately call the Wildlife Resources Commission’s sea turtle emergency hotline number at 252-241-7367. Someone is available 24/7 to answer calls. They will make arrangements to have the turtle picked up.
If you are unable to get through to them, you may call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880; Jean at 910-470-2800, or the turtle hospital at 910-328-3377. All sea turtles are federally protected, and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.
Hospital gift shop annex remains open by popular request
Every Tuesday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. you can stop by our hospital for some hassle-free shopping at our gift shop annex. Knock on the door and ask for Peggy. She’ll escort you to the shop and be your personal shopping advisor on all sea turtle gifts. We have a nice supply of T’s (long and short sleeve), hoodies, hats, visors, bags and other “stuff.” Please be prepared to pay with cash or by check; we cannot accept credit cards at the annex. You can visit our website (www.seaturtlehospital.org) to preview the items and prepare your shopping list before your visit.
Gifts that get a smile
If you’re looking for a unique gift check out the patients on our current “Adopt-A-Sea-Turtle” list. Your contribution pays for their care during their rehabilitation, and you’ll be invited to their release once they’re cleared to go. There are levels of adoption to fit any budget, so click the adoption link on our website and adopt a new friend.
You can also check out the details on how you can earn a place of honor on the wall of our new hospital as part of our “Family Giving Challenge.” Website: www.seaturtlehospital.org.
Questions, comments, suggestions?
Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions regarding this column to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be added to the newsletter list, e-mail me at the same address: email@example.com. If your e-mail address has recently changed, send me your new one so I can update my master list. You can also access the last newsletter from our website. The next issue, “How We Spent Our Year” is in production and will include our “Director’s Message” and an update on the new facility. This column appears every other week until next spring, unless we have really exciting news to share!
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.