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Rescues prepare for cold stunned turtles

Sea turtles become at risk for shock when temperatures in the Gulf dip below 50 degrees.
Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 22:49:05-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the temperatures drop days before Christmas 2022, wildlife rescues have braced themselves for a cold-stunned turtle event.

“Even though it’s Christmas weekend, that’s kind of what happens with wildlife,” Jesse Gilbert said. “You have to be prepared at any time.”

On Thursday the President and CEO of the Texas State Aquarium and his staff were getting heaters and pools ready for thousands of turtles.

“They become hypothermic and somewhat unconscious. They can float and get hit by boats. They’re susceptible to predators.”

Sea turtles become at risk for a shock when temperatures in The Gulf dip below 50 degrees.

“After winter storm Urie, we kind of looked at how that impacted sea turtles along the Texas Coast,” Gilbert said.

After 2021’s big freeze, TSA. and their partners were able to save about 1,500 sea turtles in the area.

Another 2,000 were saved around South Padre Island.

“Overall along the Texas Coast it’s estimated about that maybe more than 20,000 turtles didn’t make it,” Gilbert said.

He said numbers matter and it was thanks to the Port of Corpus Christi, which lent a building just a short drive from the aquarium, TSA has more capacity.

“So we’ll be able to intake 2,000 cold sea turtles,” he added.

Set to open in Mar., the TSA’s new rescue center will help them rescue an additional 1,000 turtles.

But for now, the focus is on the ones rescued over the weekend.

“They’ll get veterinary exams,” Gilbert said. “We make sure that other than being cold that’s the only thing that’s wrong with them.”

“Eye drops and lubricant to them to keep their shells and their eyes moist so they’re not going to dry out,” Andrew Orgill, the senior animal attendant at Amos Rehabilitation Keep, said.

Orgill is one of several staff at the ARK in Port Aransas preparing to receive cold-stunned turtles.“Usually, about 24 hours is our warming process, getting them stable getting them warmed up before they go in the tanks,” Orgill said.

The staff there said they have a patrol on standby.

“Some of our volunteers go out into our response areas and in the Mustang Island area,” Orgill said,

Once rescued some turtles can’t be released back into the wild.

“These guys were hit by boats,” Orgill said pointing to three green sea turtles in a tank. “So, when that happens, it happens across their spine it can paralyze their back flippers.”

Most of the ones rescued are able to return to the gulf when temperatures go back up.

“If we can release them out into the open gulf where it’s easier and warmer,” Orgill said. “We try to do that so if there is another stunning event, they’re not back in there for it to happen again.”

Officials ask boaters or people who see a cold-stunned turtle to call 1-866-TURTLE-5. That line will connect callers with responders that will go out there to help rescue them.

“When you’re visiting the aquarium, you’re supporting operations like this to save Texas wildlife,” Gilbert said.

He said animals already in habitats at TSA were covered.

A lot of those animals will be put into areas that are a little bit warmer and the wind is off of them,” Gilbert said. “We’re expecting really high winds. For animals that stay outside like the dolphins, the river otters, the river otters can go inside a heated den. They’ll be fine. And the dolphins actually have a tremendous heating system on them. So, the dolphins will stay nice and warm at 72 degrees.”

ARK staff said they also get a lot of birds that come to rescue when winter events happen.

They cover their habitats in windbreakers and transport sea life to warmer tanks.