It was literally raining sick turtles on us all winter, so once Spring finally rolled around we were hoping to see nothing more than actual rain during this proverbially wet month. We should have known better: April brought us “April,” and she is one lucky turtle.

It was literally raining sick turtles on us all winter, so once Spring finally rolled around we were hoping to see nothing more than actual rain during this proverbially wet month. We should have known better: April brought us “April,” and she is one lucky turtle.

A few weekends ago Tom Peterson and his wife traveled from their home in Asheville to spend some time with their daughter, who lives in Wilmington. Tom likes to run before breakfast and found that Wrightsville Beach was the perfect place to start his day while on vacation. After parking in what he says was an empty access lot he started up the beach, his goal being to reach the north end of the island and then return. The weather was cold and rainy, and Tom said the beach was practically deserted.

Near the end he noticed two gentlemen standing next to a “lump” at the high tide line. As he got closer he slowed, out of curiosity, and was astounded to find that the lump in the sand was actually a very large sea turtle. The two guys sadly told him “it was still alive half an hour ago.”

He finished his very short run to the end, and then turned around and headed back, all within the space of a few minutes. He noticed that the two men were now gone, and the unfortunate critter was left alone. As he slowed to a walk, intending to pay his respects to this poor old turtle he was stunned to see it raise its flipper about half an inch, and then take a deep breath.

Tom said: “I raced back down the island as fast as I could, which, alas, certainly wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be able to run now that it seemed like a sea turtle’s life was in the balance.”

Grabbing the phone out of his car he immediately called his daughter, Amber, who called Nancy Fahey of the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project. Although Tom really wanted to run back down and “wait for the turtle rescue troops to swoop in and haul her away to safety” by now he was cold, wet, tired and hungry. Rather than risk becoming hypothermic he drove home, knowing that soon this turtle would be en route to our hospital.

We’ll never really know what caused April to begin the downward spiral that ended with her stranding on the beach. Clearly she had been sick and unable to eat for some time, for when she arrived she was literally skin and bones and covered with opportunistic epibiota (barnacles and algae.) A typical “Barnacle Bill,” our term for turtles admitted in her condition, she had somehow survived the frigid ocean water, helplessly floating and tossed by the surf until the tide finally washed her ashore. Yet even in her battered condition she refused to surrender, miraculously enduring a miserable night immobilized on the beach, in the cold rain, incapable of defending herself against predators looking for an easy meal. This feisty gal never gave up, using what fight she had left to let someone know that she was still alive. The will to survive that these critically ill and injured animals possess never ceases to astound those of us who work with them.

Under our care April will receive medicine, supportive fluids and lots of TLC for quite awhile. Because she is so very weak, and still covered with barnacles, she will initially be kept in shallow, fresh water, allowing her to breathe easily and to rehydrate. While the staff is on-site we’ll increase her water level, allowing her to float around in her tank while we carefully watch her for any signs of distress. April loves her “swim time,” and thankfully she also loves squid. One of our main concerns with patients as emaciated as April is that they may have lost interest in food. Good nutrition is key to recovery, and fortunately April is an enthusiastic eater.

She has a long, hard road ahead of her; but we have a long, successful track record at rehabilitating cases like April’s. In a few months we hope to be able to invite Tom, who is principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center, back to visit a much improved April so she can thank him herself. Flipper hugs to Tom for giving April another chance.

Because we can’t be everywhere

I think I jinxed myself last column by saying I wouldn’t have to write the words “cold-stunned turtle” until sometime much later in the year. The initial cause of April’s illness may or may not have been related to a cold-stunning event. It may have taken her months to become so debilitated that she eventually just washed in with the tide. That’s why we still need your eyes on the beaches and waterways for turtles like April. If you see a stranded turtle anywhere that’s not moving don’t assume that it’s dead. It could be so weak that it just can’t move, and when rescued in time the prognosis for these “Barnacle Bill’s” is good. 

If you come across a stranded turtle immediately call the Wildlife Resources Commission’s sea turtle emergency hotline number at: 252-241-7367. Someone is available 24/7 to pick up calls. Locally you can call Terry (910-470-2880) or Jean (910-470-2800).

Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to our Director of Beach Operations Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. Terry can be reached at: for non-emergencies. All sea turtles are federally protected and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

Questions, comments, suggestions?

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list. We’re holding publication of the next issue until after we make the move to the new facility.


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