© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As winter weather arrives, Virginians are standing by to assist sea turtles

Veterinarians and volunteers care for stranded turtles at the Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center.
Veterinarians and volunteers care for stranded turtles at the Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center.

Turtles rely on nature to let them know when it’s time to head for warmer waters, but some may miss the memo or get caught by a cold snap, and at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Erin Bates says their bodies start shutting down.

“It will start with a slower heart rate and a lower respiratory rate," she explains. "Then they stop processing food and getting nutrients. They stop moving, which makes them susceptible to predators or boat strikes or just being hit into rocks, and if we’re not able to intervene, it ultimately it results in death.”

Bates says there are usually fewer than 40 reports of animal stunned by the cold, but in general, turtle numbers are growing here in Virginia, thanks to legal protections for wildlife and habitat.

“It’s quite common for them to come into the Chesapeake Bay during the spring and summer months to forage. They go after blue crab, horseshoe crab, a lot of good food in our area for, especially, juveniles," Bates says. "We get a lot of Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads and green sea turtles and then, a little bit offshore, they’ll occasionally follow some jellyfish in, we also get some leatherbacks sea turtles.”

The public plays an important role in letting a team of nine professionals and 70 volunteers locate and assist stranded turtles, taking survivors to the Darden Marine Animal Conservation Center for high-tech care.

“We have two veterinarians on staff with the aquarium, so they’ll get a full vet exam, and then we’ll gradually warm them at about five degrees per day, because we don’t want to shock their system by moving too quickly. And then once they get up to temperature, then we’ll do a full blood work. They’ll get radiographs to see if they have any pneumonia or broken bones, and we’ll treat from there.”

Even if it seems the animal is dead, Bates encourages people to call – because often turtles are still alive and can be saved. Should you spot a turtle in trouble, call 757-385-7575. The hotline is staffed 24/7.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief