Posted by admin | 01.05.2011 | Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, Turtle Talk

Why Sea Turtles Avoid the Polar Bear Plunge

The recent December cold snap that smacked the East Coast like a wet snowball left us bundling up in winter apparel from toboggan-top to long underwear-bottom. While we are coping (as best as possible) with the weather change,some of Mother Ocean’s creatures don’t fare as well – namely our shelled reptile friends.

There has been a recent outbreak of over 50 sea turtle strandings along the North Carolina coast, most being cold-stunned. Over 250 were rescued off the Florida coast. Others have been taken from chilly Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia waters. The quick temperature change in both the air and the water has shocked these turtles, mostly juvenile greens.

Sea turtles, like other reptiles, are ectothermic meaning they can’t regulate their body temperature internally like mammals and therefore rely on external heat sources. While there are advantages to being “cold-blooded”—such as lower metabolic needs and the ability to go longer between meals—this recent spate of cold-stunned turtles demonstrate an ecothermic disadvantage. With an absence of external heat, turtles were brought in with body temperatures in the low 50s causing them to be extremely lethargic and inactive.

The sick turtles were shipped to warmer waters, or taken to various facilities like the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital where they are now receiving proper treatment. Once rehabilitated and released they should begin their trek to warmer climates—if only we could follow.