We all know what hypothermia is. Every first-aid course tells of the signs, symptoms and treatment of a condition that, left unchecked, can be fatal.
We are warm-blooded beings that are designed to thrive in a particular environment, and we don’t do very well in cold surroundings for an extended period of time.
But did you know that cold-blooded creatures, like sea turtles, can also suffer from a similar condition?
That condition, called “cold stunning” affects sea turtles in water temperatures below 50 degrees. Sea turtles inhabit New York waters during the summer and fall before heading south to safe, warmer waters. Cold stunning slows the movements of affected sea turtles and causes the animals to get washed ashore on our beaches. This condition can become fatal, but the good news is there are ways you can help.
On November 4 at 7 p.m. the Shelter Island Public Library’s “Friday Night Dialogues” will feature a presentation by Steve Abbondondelo, a volunteer with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Attendees will learn all about cold stunning, its effects on sea turtles and most importantly, how volunteers can get involved.
One theory on how sea turtles can get “stunned” is that while foraging in shallow bays and inlets during late October, the water temperatures can drop quickly, catching some sea turtles unaware. Also, juvenile turtles sometimes have trouble finding the Gulf Stream, which can rapidly transport them to safer waters. Initial symptoms of cold stunning include decreased heart rate, decreased circulation and lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and possibly death. While Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the most common cold stunned species, Loggerhead and Green sea turtles are often in the mix.
The largest concentration of cold stunned sea turtles occurs in Massachusetts, on the Cape Cod Bay beaches. In addition, New York, specifically Long Island beaches, also see several cold stunned sea turtles each winter. In any given year, between 50 and 200 sea turtles are affected. Last year was a particularly unfortunate year for sea turtles. In North Carolina, aquariums that typically see between 40 to 60 affected sea turtles per year documented over 400 cases by mid January.
In many instances, the turtles just need time in gradually warmer water to recover, but if any of the more serious symptoms are present, intensive treatment is necessary.
What can you do to help? Learn how to recognize a cold stunned turtle and find out how to contact the marine research facility in Riverhead if you do find one on the beach in the months ahead. In addition, discover ways you can volunteer or donate dollars needed to fund study and treatment.
Find out all this and more at the Friday Night Dialogues on Friday, November 4 at 7 p.m. at the Shelter Island Public Library.
Information about the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research can be found at riverheadfoundation.org or by calling (631) 369-9840.