CAPE LOOKOUT, N.C. (WITN) – Dozens of cold-stunned sea turtles have died after being rescued Sunday off Cape Lookout.
It comes as Eastern Carolina emerges from the coldest temperatures seen in over a year.
The North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) says only 36 of the 109 cold-stunned sea turtles they took in from Cape Lookout survived.
At this time, officials say the surviving turtles are getting continued care and treatment at CMAST, but they will be moved to the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Island to complete their rehabilitation before eventually being released back into their natural habitat.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore says they found more than 100 cold-stunned turtles between Thursday and Monday from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island.
The National Seashore says sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, so their body temperature syncs with their surroundings. This means during the winter months when temperatures fall, their bodily functions slow down.
WITN meteorologists say Eastern North Carolina faced a deep freeze over the weekend with temperature highs in the mid-30s and temperature lows in the mid-upper teens with wind chills pushing temperatures into the single digits.
When the temperature plummets they can become lethargic (or cold-stunned), struggling to lift their heads above water to breathe and risk drowning, according to officials.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore says cold-stunned turtles are naturally carried to the shorelines with wind and can also be rescued in shallow sound waters, and when the weather drops, volunteers and seashore biologists routinely monitor the shorelines and take them to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) center and Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.).