The Cold Stun Patrol Team of Riverhead’s New York Marine Rescue Center is set to commence patrols along local beaches to search for cold-stunned sea turtles.
Over 200 volunteers will comb the shorelines, focusing on north-facing beaches after blustery days.
Maxine Montello, the rescue program director at NYMRC, emphasized that anyone can play a role in saving a sea turtle.
If a “rock” is discovered on the beach during the winter and closer inspection reveals it to be a turtle, NYMRC urges individuals to call the Stranding Hotline immediately at 631-369-9829.
The hotline is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and swift action could potentially save the sea turtle’s life.
A recent incident involved Hilary McDonald, who was walking on Wades Beach with her dog, Tabitha, when the dog began investigating what appeared to be a mound of sand.
This led to the discovery of an immobile turtle, initially believed to be deceased.
After closer inspection and a call to Shelter Island Animal Control Officer Jenny Zahler, it was determined that the turtle was Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, one of the smallest and most endangered sea turtles.
Officer Zahler confirmed that the turtle was “cold stunned” and subsequently transported it to the Marine Rescue Center.
Rescue program director Montello explained that as cold-blooded reptiles, sea turtles are unable to regulate their own body temperature.
When the air temperature drops in the fall, the water temperature also decreases. Once the water reaches 55 degrees, sea turtles that haven’t migrated to warmer areas become susceptible to cold-stunning.
The cold water slows the sea turtle’s movements, making them debilitated and unable to swim. Cold-stunned Sea turtles often wash ashore with the winds and tides.
Ms. Montello emphasized that the faster a cold-stunned sea turtle is found, the better chance it has of surviving.
In the previous year, NYRMC rescued a record 94 stranded, cold-stunned turtles in eight weeks, with most being critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Additionally, there were 41 stranded Atlantic green sea turtles, the highest number since 1980. Ms. Montello stated that the volunteer Cold Stun Patrol Team program was initiated in 2017 to assist the five dedicated staff members, and the volunteer list has grown to as many as 200. The volunteers play a crucial role in maximizing the territory the organization can cover to save sea turtles.
NYRMC hosts two volunteer training programs. Level one provides a lecture to help volunteers identify species and general information, while level two is an in-person program for those more interested in working in the field.
Volunteers in level two learn how to spot and move a stranded sea turtle and work closely with the NYMRC team.
Ms. Montello highlighted the special experience when volunteers and the organization participated together in the release of a rehabilitated sea turtle.
The three local species most likely to strand on Long Island are Kemp’s ridley, Atlantic green, and loggerheads.
Ms. Montello cautioned that time doesn’t allow for figuring out if the stranded animal is cold-stunned or dead, and the animals are treated as alive once the call comes in.
She explained the procedures for regulating the animal’s heart rate with fluid therapy and emergency medicines, and planning the next steps once the sea turtle’s heart rate and temperature are stable.
When someone calls the stranding hotline, they speak with a biologist who will ask questions and request photos to identify the species.
Details about the location, best access point, and GPS coordinates are also needed to find the turtle as quickly as possible. Ms. Montello cautioned against trying to warm up stranded turtles, as it can be dangerous and cause neurological damage.
If there is no cell service on the beach where a stranded turtle is found, it should be left in the field rather than transported in a car.
The animal should be marked on the beach with a piece of driftwood, moved to a location well above the high tide line, and authorities should be contacted once there is cell service.
According to Montello, bringing the animal home can be more stressful for it. Additionally, she warned against putting stranded sea turtles back in the water at this time of year.
In addition to calling the hotline or joining the volunteer patrol program, people can help save stranded sea turtles by making a donation through nymarinerescue.org.
Do Sea Turtles Attack Humans?
Reports of marine turtles attacking tourists on the beach and in the water are not uncommon. In 2022, a Russian woman experienced the aggressive behavior of sea turtles firsthand.
While enjoying a swim in the Guzeolaba, a Mediterranean resort, she was unexpectedly bitten on her backside by a loggerhead sea turtle, which then pulled her underwater.
Another alarming incident occurred in 2015 when an enormous Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle reportedly swallowed a marine turtle expert.
Despite sounding implausible, the eyewitness provided a detailed account of this deadly encounter.
In 2019, another incident of sea turtles attacking sunbathers came to light. Two sea turtles approached the tourists without warning.
These occurrences of sea turtles causing harm to humans are relatively frequent, often happening when tourists are snorkeling. Sea turtles tend to approach divers and may initiate an attack. Learn more here, Are Sea Turtles Aggressive? [Examining The Evidience].