Even though we’ve recently been appreciating those daytime temps in the 70’s cold stun season is definitely here. Right before Christmas we admitted 22 turtles found on North Carolina beaches, one good-sized loggerhead and 21 small greens. They were in pretty rough shape, sometimes more barnacle, mud and algae than turtle. Last week two more were brought in.


For years we’ve emphasized that our residents play a very important part in one of the tenets of our mission; rescue. This is especially true during the winter when visitors are scarce and the beaches and waterways are comparatively tranquil. Thankfully they aren’t totally deserted.


We got a call at our hospital on the morning of New Year’s Eve from local Gil Grant who was up at the north end of Topsail participating in the International Shore Bird Survey. Gil has been doing this for a number of years, collecting data that is sent to Cornell, NC Wildlife Resources Commission and US Fish & Wildlife. Gil carries a spotting scope and binoculars and says he has a two-mile circuit he walks up at the New River Inlet, much of it in the sand flats and marshy areas. Along the path, about 300 yards from the river he said he saw something that looked “unusual.” As he got closer he saw that it was a small turtle that had crawled in a semi-circle before coming to rest on the sand. Gil touched him - he moved.


Gill said he’s found turtles on our beaches before but unfortunately they were beyond help. This was his first turtle rescue, which we’re sure was a more pleasant experience for him. Gill called us, in fact I happened to answer the phone, and we made arrangements to get the chilly little guy to the hospital. Volunteer Doug headed north while Gil headed south where they rendezvoused at the high rise for the handoff.


He was the second cold stun admitted that day. Arriving with a temp right around 64 he rested quietly in a tank in the coolest area we had until he gradually warmed to a temperature where we could safely move him into Sick Bay. Except for being cold he looked to be in pretty decent shape with a relatively small barnacle load and some fat on his bones. He’ll get the standard cold stun medical support along with lots of TLC by our staff. Right now he’s going by the name “River,” but Jean has a whole list of “bean” names for 2020 that have yet to be assigned to our newcomers.


Based on history we know that this little turtle will not be the last one we see in the coming months. Gil knew that just because a turtle is not moving it doesn’t necessarily mean it is dead. It might just 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 during normal hospital hours. The state of NC has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367


We are now closed to the public until April of 2020. Thank you for supporting us. See you next year!


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