For cold-stunned turtles, time means life or death

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WITN) – On Tuesday, three more cold-stunned turtles arrived at NC State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) for emergency treatment.

“They should be getting out of the sounds and out to warmer water in the streams or further south,” Craig Harms, a professor at NC State University Aquatic Animal Medicine said. “If they don’t do that, and we get cold fronts coming through and they lower the temperature quickly, then they get cold stunned.”

For these turtles, time is key.

“The longer they’ve been in the cold situation, they get immunosuppressed. They get beat up in the surf, they get infections, sometimes they get joint infections, sometimes they get pneumonia,” Harms said.

This commonly happens from November to February, and this year, slightly over the average amount of turtles were cold-stunned.

According to Harms, the number of turtles lost to the cold snap is becoming more concerning due to the endangerment of the turtles from climate changes and pollution.

Turtles are slowly warmed up before they get shipped off to the Pine Knoll Aquarium for rehabilitation. The turtles’ recovery starts in shallow water.

During their treatment, turtle specialist Michele Lamping saw a familiar face.

“We saw that he had a pin tag from last year, so we knew who he was. he survived on his own in the wild and he was cold-stunned in the exact same place where he found him last year and luckily, he was one of the ones that lived because so many of them did not live through the cold snap,” Lamping said.

According to Lamping, the same turtle that was treated was released back into the ocean today.

Microchips are placed to keep track of the turtles and their goal is to not see them again and help them thrive out in the wild.

Those who recover at the aquariums can stay from a week to a year for rehabilitation depending on their state until they get released back into the ocean.

Those who do not make it are preserved for study and research purposes.